Tuesday, April 30, 2013

I remember 'That Stinky Summer'

It was a foggy morning as I prepared to leave Monterey.  I enjoy this area so much, I hope it is not another 12 years before I come back.

It was time for one last walk down the Coast Guard pier that sits midway between Cannery Row and the downtown fisherman's wharf.  I wanted to absorb as much of the peace and tranquility of the area as possible to last me for a while.

And while I strolled along enveloped in the early morning ocean air I remembered a less tranquil past summer when Monterey experienced a monumental assault by Mother Nature.  It happened in the mid-90's and, from that day forward we referred to it, unimaginatively,  as 'That Stinky Summer'...

It started with the sea lions.  Not one or two or three--but hundreds and hundreds...

They filled the bay and covered the Coast Guard pier from end to end.  They climbed on the boats.  They occupied the public restrooms.  And they even ventured across the parking lots and onto the bike trails.

And they were not the more peaceful females or the playful pups--they were the huge aggressive males who were just itching for a fight. I am not sure why they came in such numbers but one newspaper article suggested they were following an unusually plentiful supply of sardines that had moved into our area.
  Volunteers were enlisted to man fire hoses all along the bike trails to keep the huge smelly critters away from the tourists.  But the barking was deafening and complaints started coming from the guests in the hotels along the waterfront. Those hotel rooms were not air conditioned--Monterey seldom gets warm enough to warrant anything more than a small fan.  But that summer the temperature started to climb into the uncomfortable range so windows were opened-- and then things really got interesting...

One very hot and steamy morning in the midst of the sea lion invasion, the city woke to find the bay had turned emerald green!  It's called Algal Bloom and the sea plant growth is highly poisonous to the fish.  When Algae begin to grow uncontrollably it sucks up all the oxygen out of the water--leaving the fish gasping for air just before they turn belly up and die--and sardines were dying by the gazillions!

The beaches soon were covered with dead and rotting fish while the sea lions kept coming and the temperature continued to rise.

Next came the birds--hundreds of sea gulls, herons and pelicans began arriving to feast on the plentiful bounty deposited on the shores.  But somehow those birds were so gluttonous they didn't know when to stop.  The pelicans especially would consume so many fish that, when they decided to fly, their distended bellies prevented them from getting more than a few feet off the ground.  The streets that ran right next to the beaches became obstacle courses as cars swerved to avoid injured and bloated pelicans. Bird bodies littered the streets--and the temperature continued to rise.

The really good thing about that summer--you could get an ocean view room at the very best hotel for pennies on the dollar.  Monterey was never declared a disaster area that summer--but it surely was.

And the newspaper assured us that it was a 'once in a lifetime combination of events.'
I hope so.  But this particular morning it was pure paradise.


  1. thank goodness those once in a life time events only happen every decade or so....


  2. Wow. I never heard about this. We did have a dead whale wash up on the beach at Pacifica, where I used to live, and it stank up the whole town, but this seems like magnitudes worse.