Biologists track unusual fish sightings on Alaska’s coast

ANCHORAGE — Biologists say unusual fish are appearing near Alaska’s shores, likely because of warmer ocean temperatures caused by El Nino and the patch of warm water known as “The Blob.”

State fishery biologist Scott Meyer, who is based in Homer, is amassing photos from people with bizarre sightings. Those include a 900-pound ocean sunfish near Juneau and warm-water thresher sharks around the coast of Yakutat, reported KTUU-TV.

“It’s unusual to have these fish caught in near-shore fisheries,” he said.

Other strange sightings include Pacific bonito near Ketchikan, albacore tuna around Prince of Wales Island and yellow tail near Sitka.

The peak of this year’s particularly strong El Nino is coming up, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. It’s one of the strongest El Nino events on record.

NOAA says The Blob has also raised temperatures in the North Pacific to record highs.

Sunfish tend to prefer warmer waters than those usually found in Alaska, but there have been many sightings of the species this summer, according to state biologist Steve Moffitt.

Federal fisheries biologist Joe Orsi said two of them swam into researchers’ gear while they conducted juvenile salmon surveys in the southeast this summer.

Moffitt also dissected a sunfish that recently washed ashore in Cordova. He said sunfish have probably been drawn to Alaska not only by warm currents but also a huge mass of jellyfish that has filled waters around Cordova.

“Sunfish really like to eat jellyfish,” he said.

The strange fish sightings are interesting but might be a cause of concern, according to Orsi.

He said it’s not clear how big-money fish like salmon will be affected if ocean temperatures rise. State records show that fewer pink salmon than expected were caught this year.

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