Ocean temperatures predict where fish will migrate

Migratory fish follow a distinct pattern with the ocean’s changing temperatures, a new study finds.

Researchers from the University of Miami’s Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science have used a hurricane-modeling tool to track the migratory paths of fish in the world’s oceans. According to a university press release, the scientists used ocean heat content images to track populations of Atlantic tarpon, yellowfin and Bluefin tunas, blue and white marlin, and sailfish all follow the fronts and eddies of ocean water.

According to Jerald S. Ault, a UM Rosenstiel School marine biology and ecology professor, “Ocean heat content data revealed detailed movements of fishes that were not readily apparent using surface temperature data. This offers a powerful new approach to study how fish interact with dynamic water features relatively common in the ocean.”

The ocean heat content relative to the 26 degrees Celsius isotherm, which measures the heat stored by the upper ocean layers, has long been used to predict the intensity of hurricanes, which draw their energy from the ocean’s water. It has continued to be used to provide variability for weather and climate models across entire oceans, but has never been used to study fish before.

Comparing satellite data tracking fish movements to OHC data, the researchers were able to plot the paths of migratory fish based on temperature fronts. Fish were found to swim along the boundaries between warm and cold water. Warm eddies in ocean currents attract baitfish, and predatory species are not far behind.

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