Trying to imagine Maine without lobster is like trying to imagine Cape Cod without cod, or Florida without oranges. But the region may lose its iconic crustacean, as scientists have revealed that lobsters are seeking cooler habitat as Gulf of Maine waters warm.
Waters in the Gulf of Maine are heating up faster than 99 percent of the world's oceans, scientists say, according to The Associated Press. Long-established species of commercial fish, like cod, herring and northern shrimp, are departing for colder waters. And species not typically found in the Gulf like black sea bass, blue crabs and new species of squid are taking over.
"These changes are very real, and we're seeing them happen quickly," Malin Pinsky, a biology professor at New Jersey's Rutgers University, who was not involved in the new research, told the AP.
Climate change is certainly warming the rest of the world's oceans, but not nearly as fast as in the Gulf - stretching from Massachusetts to Nova Scotia and New Brunswick.
Until 2004, scientists say, Gulf temperatures were increasing by about 0.05 degrees per year since 1982, which was similar to the overall global trend. However, the pace then accelerated to about a half-degree per year - nearly 10 times faster - and scientists aren't sure why.
Scientists speculate that shifts in the Gulf stream or a sort of "perfect storm" of events could explain this phenomenon. But regardless of the cause, the Gulf of Maine's temperature is expected to rise more than 4 degrees by the end of the century, Pinsky said.
Gulf waters are historically chill and have strong currents - mixing waters and increasing available nutrients - making it desirable habitat for lobsters and other marine life. But with things heating up, half of fish stocks studied in the Northwest Atlantic Ocean, including many commercial species, have been shifting northward over the past 40 years, according to a 2009 NOAA report.
These changes are not only a threat to lobster and other fish species, but also to Maine's multi-billion dollar industry. National Geographic reports that more than 200,000 tons of lobster is caught annually. The American (Homarus americanus) and European (Homarus gammarus) clawed lobsters are the most heavily harvested, and ones that you're likely to see on your dinner plate. These species, like so many others, prefer colder waters, although some are also tropical lobsters - though these are generally clawless varieties called spiny and slipper lobsters.
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