The European Satellite Agency recently announced that June was the hottest month ever recorded on Earth — in fact, in California, it was so hot that mussels on rocks fried to death inside their shells.
Temperatures in Bodega Bay in northern California soared up to 75 degrees Fahrenheit and 97 degrees in San Francisco last month. And the mussels, which attach themselves to coastal rocks, were exposed to the scorching heat following many consecutive days of mid-day low tides in the area.
The animals can normally cool off and survive higher temperatures by venting the heat, but need sea breeze to carry it away. Unfortunately, the Californian shorelines witnessed no such breezes during the recent extreme heat waves, causing the mussels to die off in alarming numbers.
“In the past we’ve seen patches die, but in this case it was everywhere,” Sones said. “Every part of the mussel bed I touched, there were mussels that had died,” Bodega Marine Reserve research coordinator Jackie Sones told Bay Nature magazine.
Sones told CNN she found tens of thousands of dead mussels upon surveying longer stretches of the shoreline.
Marine ecologist Brian Helmuth from Northeastern University, who studies the effect of warming temperatures on marine creatures, said that when the temperature reaches 75 degrees Fahrenheit, the tissues of marine creatures like mussels, which glue themselves to rocks, can rise up to 105 degrees Fahrenheit — fatal temperatures for the small creatures. Helmuth explained Bay Nature magazine that the black shells of the mussels attract and trap more heat, making the high temperatures even more dangerous for the mollusks.
Many areas in California, including San Francisco Bay, faced triple digit temperatures during heat waves for several days in June, reaching new record temperatures.
The mass die-off could disrupt the local food chain and have devastating consequences for the ecosystem, Sones said.
“Mussels are known as a foundation species. 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,” she told the Guardian.
But it’s not just California and its mussels that suffered during the recent high temperatures. Many countries around the world were affected by the heat waves, including developing countries where people living in poverty tend to be hit the hardest by the extreme weather. For example, in India and Pakistan, temperatures topped 120 degrees Fahrenheit, exacerbating water shortages and impacting millions of people.
The latest record-breaking heat wave was felt in several European countries. France recorded the hottest temperature in the country's history, while wildfires spread across Spain, where temperatures exceeded 104 degrees Fahrenheit. Germany, Poland, and Czech Republic also recorded some of their highest temperatures last week.
“We no longer think of climate change in the future,” Helmuth said. “It’s how do you prepare for it now.”