Apr 6, 2011 6:57 PM by John Reger
We all watched the video of the tsunami rolling ashore in Japan, and some of the damage the wave caused when it crossed the ocean and hit California. Reanna Escobedo from San luis Obispo wanted to know: What happens to all the sea life in a tsunami?
Just before a tsunami hits, the ocean retreats to an abnormally low tide so quickly that underwater coastal creatures like crabs and lobsters are left exposed.
"Some that are not used to being exposed to air get exposed and they can be unable to breathe because of that, they don't have water," said Cal Poly Oceanographer Brian Zelenke.
Except for the very young and very old, strong swimmers like sea lions, dolphins and fish can usually respond quickly enough and swim to safety in deeper water.
When the tsunami wave surges ashore, it hammers at the plant and animal life that clings to coastal rocks and sand bottoms, like sea stars and sea urchins. Only the heartiest aren't torn away. Strong sea grasses, algae and mature sea anemones are accustomed to a constant pounding from the ocean so they're bonded to the rocks and would probably survive.
However, the powerful tsunami wave wave carries away whatever creatures are too helpless or unlucky to escape. "They get washed onshore and they get stranded," said Zelenke. "And when a creature gets stranded after the water recedes, you an end up with a die-off where you have lots of fish, different animals just where they're not meant to be."
The receding water carries inland dirt back into the ocean where it mixes with underwater sediment that's been churned up by the tsunami. That cuts off sunlight for plants and animals that can't live without it. Clams and oysters are forced to filter through dirtier water for food. Later, all creatures pay the price of chemicals and toxins swept into the ocean from shore.
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