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Warm Temps Stir Chesapeake Bay Wildlife

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Scientists say last winter's warm temperatures have affected wildlife around the Chesapeake Bay.
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Scientists say last winter's warm temperatures have affected wildlife around the Chesapeake Bay.

The cherry blossoms made an early appearance in the D.C. area this year due to last winter's record warm temperatures. But the blossoms aren't all that's been affected. The warm weather has also had an effect on the creatures and plant life living around the Chesapeake Bay.

"There's a couple of things that are clear right off the bat, one of them is for our blue crabs," says Lyn Fegley, with the Maryland Department of Natural Resources. "Last year we lost a lot of our big crabs in Maryland because of cold water temperatures. This year, that won't happen."

In addition to more crabs, Pat Gilbert, with the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science, says so far algae are getting a head start, too.

"They're responding just like our spring plants on land," says Gilbert. "As temperatures warm, they start growing more rapidly."

It's unclear as to whether or not the growth in algae will mean a bigger dead zone--hypoxic or low-oxygen areas in the water--this summer because while it's been warmer, it's been drier, as well. That means fewer nutrients are washing into the Bay to feed algae.

Something else swimmers and other Bay visitors may notice is a rise in the sea nettle or jellyfish population.

"If things remain warm and dry, as we come into [the] May, June time frame, we would predict an early appearance of sea nettles and for their distribution to shift northward," says Raleigh Hood at Horn Point Laboratory.

These affects may even occur as far north as Baltimore. Other scientists say rockfish could spawn early, and birdwatchers say many bird species are arriving weeks before their usual schedule.

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