By Stacey Leasca
July 03, 2019
Credit: Getty Images/EyeEm

Europe isn’t the only place under a monster heatwave this summer. In early June, Northern California experienced its own heat advisory. And now, scientists are starting to see the ill effects of that heat. In fact, things were so hot in the Bodega Bay area that mussels cooked under the midday sun right on the shore.

"When I was approaching the field site, I could see right away that hundreds of mussels were dead," Jackie Sones, a research coordinator at Bodega Marine Reserve, told CNN about the June 10 and 11 heatwave. But her gruesome discovery didn’t stop there. According to Sones, as she continued her survey of the field site she came to realize that thousands more mussels had also perished due to frying in the heat.

“In the past we’ve seen patches die, but in this case it was everywhere,” Sones additionally told Bay Nature. “Every part of the mussel bed I touched, there were mussels that had died.”

As Sones explained to CNN, mussels start to struggle physically when the air temperature hits about 90 degrees. On the day of her survey, temperatures were close to, if not over, 100. Furthermore, University of British Columbia biologist Christopher Harley explained to Bay Nature that it’s not just the air temperature the mussels have to worry about. Mussels live on rocky shores. When those rocks are exposed to the sun they can become extraordinarily hot and dangerous for marine life.

Though it may not seem like a very big deal for a bunch of bottom feeders to cook in the sun, Harley explained to The Guardian that these little creatures are actually the “canaries in the coal mine for climate change.”

“Mussels are one of the canaries in the coal mine for climate change, only this canary provides food and habitat for hundreds of other species,” he said.

Sones added, there may be a ripple effect from this die off that could be harmful to even more species.

“Mussels are known as a foundation species,” she explained to The Guardian. “The equivalent are the trees in a forest — they provide shelter and habitat for a lot of animals, so when you impact that core habitat it ripples throughout the rest of the system.”

Between this heatwave, the one in Europe, and the freak hailstorm in Mexico, scientists believe the time to act is upon us.

“We no longer think of climate change in the future when we do this kind of forecasting work,” Harley said. “It’s how do you prepare for it now.”

But, at least for now, things have cooled off in Bodega Bay, where temperatures this week will remain in the high 60’s.