Story at a glance

  • Temperatures reached as high as 116 degrees in the recent heat wave that overtook the Pacifc Northwest and Western regions of the Americas.
  • An estimated 1 billion marine animals died in the Salish Sea off the coast of Vancouver during the heat wave.
  • The numbers are projected to increase as climate change triggers rising temperatures in many parts of the world.

It wasn’t just hot enough to fry an egg on the blacktop during the recent heat wave in the Pacific Northwest; it was hot enough to cook millions of mussels alive and kill up to 1 billion marine animals, says one expert. 

“It’s a reminder that yes, there are very important human tolls to climate change, but the whole system around us is changing too, and we don’t know what all of the consequences of those changes are going to be," Chris Harley, a marine biologist at the University of British Columbia, told the Toronto Star.

Harley estimated that 1 billion marine animals died in the Salish Sea off the coast of Vancouver during the heat wave, although his team is still gathering data. Thousands of mussels can live on an area the size of a stove top, Harley said, multiplied over hundreds of kilometers of the shore and occupying a position in the middle of the food chain, making them the "poster child" for the effects of climate change on the ecosystem. 


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The severe heat wave and drought overtaking parts of the Western U.S. and nearby regions are continued symptoms of climate change, according to a new study. Research shows that animals are already dying due to the consequences of climate change on their habitats and lifestyles — and the situation is only projected to get worse. The West Coast is already preparing for a second heat wave, even as many are still recovering from heat-related illnesses brought on by the first one. 

“The nerdy ecologist part of me is excited to see what will happen in the coming years,” Harley told the Guardian. “But most of the rest of me is kind of depressed by it. A lot of species are not going to be able to keep up with the pace of change. Ecosystems are going to change in ways that are really difficult to predict. We don’t know where the tipping points are.”  


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Published on Jul 08, 2021