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Annenberg School of Communication and Journalism University of Southern California
Southern California

El Niño Brings Rare Animal Sightings To Southern California Coast

The first signs of the much-discussed weather pattern: hammerhead shark sightings and venomous snakes.

Southern California is already seeing evidence of El Niño, the warming of the Pacific Ocean near the Equator. 

Beach-goers spotted an 8-foot-long hammerhead shark off the Newport Beach Pier Monday, the second hammerhead shark sighting this month. A venomous yellow-bellied snake washed up onto an Oxnard beach last Thursday; a sighting that hasn’t been recorded in California since an El Niño period in the 1980’s. 

Both species are rare sightings off the California coastline.  

UC Santa Barbara professor Leila Carvalho specializes in climate variability, which El Niño is a part of, and explained why atypical California aquatic life is suddenly popping up. “The ocean is warming in this area more than usual. We see a warm anomaly in temperatures, getting warmer in these waters and those fish that usually stay in more tropical latitudes, they are migrating north," says Carvalho.

Past El Niños give us clues as to what impact this may have on Southern California's weather, Carvalho says. "As temperatures continue to increase, it will favor more precipitation in principle. Based on previous El Niño that we had before, strong as the one we're seeing today and this year,” she says.

Carvalho says although we'll see warmer temperatures this winter, El Niño will also bring rain to replenish ground water and reservoirs.  But those downpours, unknown when they will be, are expected to only help California's drought slightly. 

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