An ‘unheard of’ marine heatwave off the North East coast poses a serious risk to wildlife, according to experts. With temperatures in parts of the North Sea said to have risen up to 5 degrees this summer.
Scientists have said the increase is a category four marine heatwave, which is considered extreme, and is thought to be caused by climate change.
A Newcastle University professor, Per Berggren, said the rise in temperature could have a knock on effect on the marine wildlife food chain.
“It is devastating, we are very worried to see what is going to happen in the next few weeks and months. A rise in temperate affects the plants and phytoplankton at the very bottom of the food chain, that in turn effects vitally important sand eels.
“Their reproduction is timed with the sea plankton, so if that changes, which will happen when the temperature changes, then we might have failing sand eel populations. Which is very unfortunate because they are a staple food for all the bigger animals in the area.
“All of the dolphins, porpoises, whales, sea birds, sharks and rays. So we’re very worried about that.”
Sea surface temperatures in April and May this year were reportedly the highest on records since 1850 according to the Met Office and the US National Oceanic.
Richard Ilderton, from the Tynemouth Seal Hospital, said they are bracing themselves to deal with an influx of seals needing treatment.
“They need a lot of calories to keep going, if their food is not there because of the impact of this increase in temperature then they’ll be starving on the beach.
“Guillemots, puffins and the seal population need fish to survive and if the fish aren’t there because of the damage that’s been caused by this increase in temperature, we’re going to start seeing very underweight, malnourished and unwell seals.”