Story at a glance
- A group of sockeye salmon in the Columbia River are expected to die after they were exposed to lethal temperatures.
- A video shows the salmon covered in red lesions and white fungus as they sought to escape the high temperatures.
- Such events are becoming increasingly common as climate change triggers rising temperatures in many parts of the world.
A heartbreaking video of fish scorched by lethal temperatures during the recent heat wave in the Pacific Northwest is yet another reminder of the devastating consequences of climate change.
“It’s heartbreaking to watch animals dying unnaturally,” Brett VandenHeuvel, the executive director of Columbia Riverkeeper, told the Guardian. “And worse, thinking about the cause of it. This is a human caused problem, and it really makes me think about the future.”
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Adult salmon cannot migrate upstream when water temperatures rise above 68 degrees Fahrenheit, according to Columbia Riverkeeper, and temperatures hit 70 during the recent heat wave. Stuck in warm water and unable to spawn, the fish became covered in red lesions and white fungus due to heat and stress.
But temperatures have been rising for even longer, despite the protections given to the Columbia River Basin under the Clean Water Act.
“It’s really appalling that we have solutions to save salmon, but we’re not doing it,” said Don Sampson, a member of the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation and an advisory board member for the Northwest Tribal Salmon Alliance, telling the Guardian that watching the video was like seeing his relatives die. “We don’t have the political will, our members of Congress in the north-west don’t have the political strength or will to stand up to protect salmon for future generations.”
Not far from the Columbia River, an estimated 1 billion marine animals died in the Salish Sea off the coast of Vancouver during a recent heat wave. The severe heat wave and drought overtaking parts of the U.S. West 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.
“I see this as a deeply sad vision for our future. But I also see it as a call to action. There’s mitigation measures we can take to save the salmon, to cool our rivers,” VandenHeuvel told the Guardian. “And if this video doesn’t inspire some serious reflection, then I don’t know what will.”
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