An El Niño Fish Tale

An El Niño Fish Tale

In the 1960s, colorful Peruvian fishing boats returned to shore each day heavy with thousands of anchovies. On larger boats the anchovies could be put in a hold below deck. On smaller boats, the fishermen, nets, and anchovies were on deck together and seabirds soared above, looking for a snack. Fish are very important to the coastal Peruvians because the climate is dry and it's hard to farm the land. 

But in 1972, the boats returned to shore with empty nets and disappointed fishermen. Seabirds couldn’t find food and died in large numbers.

The Peruvian fishermen noticed that warmer water and tropical fish had appeared. The skies were cloudy and the air was humid instead of dry. This had happened before, every few years. Because it was a bit like the weather that would happen around Christmas, at the start of Southern Hemisphere summer, they called it El Niño, the child, in honor of Christmas.

Today we know that El Niño is the warm phase of a climate phenomenon called ENSO (El Niño Southern Oscillation). El Niño doesn’t just make fish scarce off the coast of Peru, it has an impact on the entire planet.

Read on to learn how and why El Niño caused Peruvian fish to disappear and how the fish, the ocean, the atmosphere, and the fishermen are all connected.

(Image top: Carlos Olivares/Flickr)