Feeding frenzy: Thousands of fish wash up at White Rock Pier
WHITE ROCK -- People and animals are flocking to White Rock Pier as hundreds of thousands of tiny fish wash up on shore.
It’s a feeding frenzy, and it's quite the sight to see.
“I’ve never seen anything like this before," said onlooker Jodie Marsh. "This is really incredible.”
“What a glorious display of nature,” said Charles Iragui.
Swarms of seagulls and sea lions were feasting, taking advantage of the abundance of fish.
"It’s an amazing Christmas dinner for all of the wildlife; it doesn’t get better than this for them,” said Andrew Trites, Director of the Marine Mammal Research Unit at UBC’s Institute for the Oceans and Fisheries.
The animals weren’t the only ones enjoying free food. People were also getting in on the action and filling bags up with fish.
Trites says the fish are northern anchovy, a species scientists say has become more common in B.C. in the last five years. Their higher numbers appear to be related to warmer ocean temperatures, Trites said, noting that B.C. is considered to be the northern limit of their range.
But the fact that they've become more common doesn't explain why they were washing up in large numbers this week.
Trites says that’s likely the aftermath of marine mammals hunting big schools of anchovies for food.
“The technique that many marine mammals use when they capture these fish is get underneath and pushing them up to the surface," Trites said. "Basically, it’s like putting the fish up against the wall. For a fish, the wall is the surface they can’t go anywhere beyond. At that point, the marine mammals can attack them from below and that is when the birds start diving from above."
"The seagulls can’t swim underwater but they can plunge and so you can find them sometimes working together.”
He says the phenomenon is not uncommon in deeper water, but seeing it so close to shore is rare.
“It really is an amazing opportunity for people to get close to this wild Salish Sea and see these predator-prey interactions,” said Trites.
The fish are dying, because there are too many of them for the amount of space available.
“Basically they will suck all of the oxygen out of the water and so they will suffocate,” said Trites. “I didn’t see any sign of things not looking healthy, so if anything I think there are just too many of them in a very small spot.”
While it may look unsettling to some, it’s a natural phenomenon, Trites says.
“I see it as a sign of just how rich our ecosystem is, that it's sustaining that much life,” said Trites.