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Date of Issue: June 29, 2006

Sandscript

Weird wilderness tales, plus a storm lesson

There is more than the usual weirdness in the wilderness of late.

Fish are being caught in areas where they have not been known to historically frequent. The same is true for some other critters - beluga whales in rivers and bears in Bavaria, the first such sighting in 170 years.

Global warming impacts? Who knows.

 

Fish tales

Big fish are moving in strange ways. According to the Wall Street Journal, San Diego fishers last summer caught huge numbers of huge, 200-pound yellowfin tuna, while the more common and smaller albacore tuna seemed to have migrated more than 1,000 miles to the north by the coast of Washington.

The yellowfin harvest was good news for sushi lovers, but not so good for recreational fishers looking to catch albacore. Trips which usually netted a score of the smaller tuna per angler tapered off to near nothing.

The action picked up for swordfishers off Miami, though. Usually thought of as a deepwater, North Atlantic catch, swordfishing off South Florida has been booming of late, so good that some charter captains are running nighttime trips - something never done before.

And the catches are great.

Part of the reason for the swordfish bonanza may be more stringent international regulations on fishing, which has caused the stock to rebound. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration officials have said that the fishery has dramatically rebounded since 1999, hence the better catches for recreational fishers.

 

Whale tale

A juvenile beluga whale carcass was found in a river in central Alaska last week, about 1,000 miles from its usual haunts.

Belugas are those white whales with a prominent forehead. They're pretty smart as a rule - at least smart enough not to swim 1,000 miles away from their usual saltwater habitat.

Scientists speculate that the guy started chasing a school of fish up the river and just kept going.

 

Bear tale

And then there's Bruno, a bear that wandered across the Alps from Italy into Bavaria. Wild bears were wiped out in Germany about 170 years ago, making the 2-year-old Bruno an element of history.

He was friendly when first spotted, too, as only a 2-year-old can be. Hikers loved to see him scampering around in the forest.

Then Bruno found the joys of honey from beekeepers hives. And the joy of killing and eating sheep, pet rabbits and chickens.

Authorities reacted by declaring an open hunting season on Bruno, and he then proved his worth, eluding hunting dogs and even surviving a car crash. He also was able to dodge the bear traps set for him.

After a public outcry to "save the bruin," authorities have now said they want to catch him and return him to his native Italy.

 

Loopy tale

We've got weirdness right on our doorstep, too. The Loop Current has moved close to shore, drawing with it billfish and dolphin-the-fish-not-Flipper.

Usually deepwater species, sailfish and dolphin have been caught just a few miles out in the Gulf of Mexico in the past few weeks. It's not all that uncommon for April and May, but somewhat odd for the current to flow so close to shore so late in the year.

Of course, Tropical Storm Alberto probably chewed up the current and its meanderings may have drawn it back to the usual deeper waters of the Gulf.

The current, by the way, starts in the Caribbean Sea and flows north between Cuba and the Yucatan Peninsula. It splits just south of Louisiana, with one branch curving past Texas and the other flowing past Key West and the Florida Straits, where it becomes the Gulf Stream.

 

Loopy tale, chapter 2

The Loop Current made headlines last week as Tropical Storm Alberto lumbered past us. At 11 a.m. Monday, June 12, the National Hurricane Center in Miami issued this discussion on Alberto:

"The Air Force Hurricane Hunter airplane found that the center of the cyclone has abruptly reformed near the deep convention, and it is now relocated some 60 nautical miles to the northeast of its previously estimated position. The current intensity is adjusted to 60 knots. The storm has been interacting with the warm Gulf of Mexico Loop Current, which has likely been a contributor to the intensification. As Alberto continues north-northeastward, it will be departing the Loop Current and encountering a region of lower oceanic heat content."

As we all remember, the storm never became a hurricane and in fact weakened as it neared the coast in the Big Bend area of Florida. Lots of rain, not much wind.

You may also remember that Hurricanes Katrina, Rita and Wilma last year all passed through the Loop Current and received a steroid-like burst of energy in passing through those warm waters.

Here's a bit of a hurricane history lesson, from John Barnes' book, "Mother of Storms."

"A hurricane is a gigantic heat engine. That is, it converts a temperature difference into mechanical energy, like diesel, steam, gasoline, jet, rocket or turbine engines. But whereas a diesel engine, for example, converts (some of) the heat of the burning fuel to motion of the piston by releasing (most of) the heat to the cooler environment, a hurricane works by moving heat from the hot ocean surface to the cold bottom of the stratosphere - converting some of it to wind along the way.

"If the water is below 81.5 degrees Fahrenheit, more energy comes out of the wind to move the heat than the heat itself supplies, and the hurricane dies. But above 81.5, a hurricane doesn't just live … it grows. Each blast of cool air blowing over the warm, wet ocean grows warmer, rises, drops its load of evaporated water, and returns with a little more force each time."

The Loop Current is filled with warm water and is what Barnes calls a "hurricane formation zone." Watch for it later this year.

 

Sandscript factoid

Here's a great quote from one of the TV weather guys last week. He was standing on a beach, trying to discuss the dangers of storm surge associated with Tropical Storm Alberto.

"You can see it right here at my feet," the guy said of storm surge. "The water has come all the way up to the beach!"

Jeez, imagine that.

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