The 2017 hurricane season officially ends on November 30 and with 18 named storms this season will enter the history books as the eighth most active season recorded since 1851. As severe and devastating as it was for the Gulf Coast and Caribbean it still produced fewer storms than 2005, that had 28 named storms including Hurricane Katrina.
September 2017 the most active month for Hurricanes in history!
Of course, the severity of a hurricane season is measured not just by the number of storms but by their strength and longevity. Using this scale 2017 ranks close to 2005 with a stretch of eight hurricanes between August 9 through September 29 including the infamous storms: Harvey, Jose, Irma and Maria all hurricanes that exceeded Category 3. In total, September 2017 was the single most active month for Atlantic hurricanes on record, topping the previous record from September 2004.
We followed Harvey, Irma and Maria as they left paths of destruction across Texas, Florida and the Caribbean and we reported not only on the human misery but the impact that the storms had on the region’s wildlife. See: Wildlife in the path of Hurricane Irma; manatees, dolphins, lemurs and Hemingway’s cats.
Can Marine Life Detect Hurricanes?
But how do you track the impact of severe hurricanes on marine life? On whales, sharks, dolphins, sea turtles and coral reef ecosystems. Do these marine creatures even realize that a major storm is approaching and how do they react?
A recent article in Men’s Journal asked that very question and came up with some interesting answers.
Sharks Detect Pressure Changes
Sharks seem to be able to sense when a hurricane is approaching. The same organs (lateral lines, canals filled with fluid) on each side of the shark’s body can detect small changes in pressure.
Normally these organs are used to track the erratic movements of sick or wounded prey but they can also detect a drop in air pressure caused by an approaching storm.
In 2001 Florida’s Mote Marine Lab studied young black tip sharks that upon detecting a dramatic drop in barometric pressure caused by an approaching storm left shallow water for deeper. When the storm and pressure subsided the sharks returned. Larger ocean-going sharks like great whites appeared to avoid the path of a storm altogether.
Dolphins and Whales Detect Changes in Ocean Salinity
Changes in the concentration of salt on the ocean’s surface caused by heavy downpours can alert dolphins and whales to approaching hurricanes. Their normal reaction is to leave the area.
Unfortunately, other air breathing marine mammals like sea turtles, especially juveniles, can potentially drown in heavy swells when coming to the surface to breath. (photo – Jones-Shimlock)
Obviously, marine creatures that cannot dive deeper or avoid a storm are at great risk. Crabs, oysters and reef fish are in the greatest peril from crashing waves, colder water temperatures and a drop in the levels of dissolved oxygen that often accompanies large storms.
Coral Reefs Cannot Escape Hurricanes!
Reef corals and the habitat they provide for other marine life can be heavily damaged by a hurricane’s turbulent waves and underwater currents that can often reach depths of 300 feet. Especially vulnerable would be branching corals like staghorn and elkhorn coral.
Divers throughout the Caribbean are now, undoubtedly reporting massive destruction to the coral ecosystem in the wake of this season’s hurricanes. (photo – Mashable)
By Robert Frerck, Blue Ocean Network
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