Tsunami leaves its mark on the West Coast

Damage to crabbers, nature's warning signs of a coming tidal wave, fleeing vampires, and a boon for beachcombers.

Damage to crabbers, nature's warning signs of a coming tidal wave, fleeing vampires, and a boon for beachcombers.

The tsunami that reached the West Coast did selective damage to ports and coastal areas in northern California, Oregon, and Washington. In California and Oregon, the fishing and crabbing industries have been seriously damaged in areas already highly stressed by high unemployment and the Great Recession. 

The commercial crabbing fleet in Crescent City, Calif. took a major hit (and a young tsunami-watcher from Oregon was washed out to sea). In Oregon, crabbers are trying to make lemonade from the lemon and are having a tsunami sale of fresh crab. Save a little lemon for the crab meat.

The tsunami fizzled in Alaska and British Columbia, but did cause the cast of Twilight to flee; Hollywood vampires apparently have a keen sense of self-preservation.

Our Northwest coasts are no stranger to such events. Last year, I wrote about archaeological research at Nehalem, Oregon that has involved researchers mapping the impact of the big tsunami in 1700 caused by an estimated 9 magnitude quake off the Washington coast. The impact was felt and recorded in Japan. The surge here likely re-located a long-sought shipwrecked Spanish galleon, the cargo of which still occasionally appears on local beaches.

Archaeologists would like to find the actual wreck itself, thought to be one of the galleons that brought goods from the Philippines to Mexico in the 17th century. One piece of advice: beachcombers should keep an extra sharp lookout in coming weeks for new flotsam and jetsam shaken loose or stirred up by the waves all along the coast.

Last fall, I also wrote a piece about whether Native American legends and prehistoric experience had anything to teach us about tsunamis. Local tribal knowledge saved many people in the Andaman Islands during the great Indian Ocean tsunami in 2004. It turns out, there is some very interesting oral history about the impacts of quakes, eruptions and tsunamis in the Northwest before European contact.

Are there natural warning signs in advance of a tsunami? There are, if you know what to look for. An amazing photographic example appeared on the Seattle Times website showing an unusual gathering of sardines near shore off the coast of Mexico. Such massings have been observed in advance of an approaching tidal waves. Other large "slicks" of fish apparently fleeing the tsunami have been spotted off Acapulco. Scientists are looking into the phenomenon.

What kind of "siren" tells fish to head for the hills? It would be worth finding out.


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About the Authors & Contributors

Knute Berger

Knute Berger

Knute “Mossback” Berger is Crosscut's Editor-at-Large.