Scary Halloween Cartoons – Global Warming in the Gulf of Maine

Guest Essay by Kip Hansen – 31 October 2021

While involved in an unrelated activity, I chanced upon two cartoons produced for Sea Grant Maine in 2014, six years ago.  Each of these cartoons predicts coming disaster (calamity) for Gulf of Maine fisheries.  Readers will have already guessed that the reasons for the calamity are Climate Change and Rising CO2.  The absolute worst thing about the cartoons is that they are endearingly cute.  I shudder to think of how many young minds (adult minds too) have been filled with silly and misleading information as a result.

Let’s start with this one:  A Climate Calamity In The Gulf Of Maine: The Lobster Pot Heats Up

My goodness, that was so fun – and oh so wrong.  Yes, the waters of the Gulf of Main have been warming and cooling.  But have the lobsters or the lobster fishery suffered?

Let’s check with the State of Maine Department of Marine Resources:

Despite Covid-19 and all of its economic, trade and transportation disruptions throughout 2020, and the nearly unending spate of new restrictive regulations imposed by the Federal government on Bay fisheries, Maine lobster-men (and lobster-women) still landed 100 million pounds of live lobsters worth over $400,000,000

They have been landing over 100 million plus pounds of lobsters since 2011, ten years!  That’s 1 Billion pounds of lobster.

There has certainly not been any calamity for Maine’s lobster industry.  Gulf of Maine water temperatures do not appear closely tied to lobster fishery production.  During the years of rapid water warming, lobster abundance increased dramatically – the cartoon does admit this, but goes on to project doom and gloom if . . . . . we don’t stop burning fossil fuels!

Then there is this one:

We are told that the Gulf and all its wonderful critters and those who depends on them – fishermen and clam diggers and tourists – are threatened by rising ocean temperatures and changing ocean chemistry. For chemistry, of course, they are talking about Ocean Acidification, the natural mixing of the sea and the atmosphere at the ocean’s surface.  The Gulf of Maine average sea water temperature is currently about a rather chilly 50 ºF (corrected thanks to Tom H.).   And the pH?

Note: The circle highlight is in the original image but is not mine. — kh

It is clear that pH is neither trending up or down, it is highly variable, both year-to-year and seasonally.  2018 had a range of 8.33 down to 7.85.  Other years show about a 0.24 pH unit range month-to-month, with winter months being higher, more basic, and summer months being lower, less basic (or as alarmist like to say “more acid”).   Compare April-May 2018 (light blue) to the same months in 2020 (red).

This monthly view:

While it is widely practiced, it is improper to apply the worldwide-oceans’  much-touted drop of 0.1 pH to any specific locality, in the same way it is to pretend that every place on Earth has had a rise in air temperature of 1.2 ºC.   For the Gulf of Maine, pH is all-over-the-place — daily, monthly annually and inter-annually – but generally stays within a narrow range of 7.9 to 8.3.  The same range as seen in the surface waters of the oceans around the world. 

What is the scary story about pH in the Gulf of Maine?  The cartoon claims that as the pH drops it will dissolve the shells of the clams.  Let’s see how much damage the posited drop in pH has produced on Maine’s annual Clam Landings:

Only 1,674,920 pounds worth $2,643,720.   (The 2020 data is not available on the web yet.)   Truthfully, this looks like good news to me – and oddly (or not) definitely not a calamity.

So, if we accept that irrefutable data on the harvest of lobsters and clams, it is all good news. 

There is a downside to the good news – even I will admit. 

This is the Bad News:

This graph shows the Great Collapse of the Atlantic Cod Fishery.  There was a partial collapse in the 1970s and then a catastrophic collapse in the early 1990s, from which the  cod fishery has not recovered.  The cause? 

Spectacular over-fishing – over a million tons a year for 12 years in the 1960s and early 1970s, and then, when stocks had barely recovered after the first partial collapse by the 1980s, over-fishing at a rate of 600,000 tons a year until the total collapse by 1992.

Biologists would have probably predicted a steady decline on the trend from 1982 to1989 and recommended limiting fishing – but they would have far too late to save the cod.    See the note further on about population dynamics.

If one looks at the cod graph, just the left-hand part, the sharp climb to the high peak in the early 1970s, it looks remarkably like today’s graphs of the Gulf of Maine lobster and clam landings, both of which are soaring to new heights over a single decade.  It is quite possible that Maine is pushing both lobsters and clams to the point of collapse – the same type of greedy over-fishing that collapsed the cod. 

Another example in modern times is the endlessly abundant oysters of the Chesapeake Bay.  Well, not so endlessly abundant after all:

Note: The left graph starts in 1880 while the right-hand graph starts in 1980 — a hundred years later. — kh

The world could probably get by without Maine lobsters and Quahog clams though their loss would be a real economic disaster to Maine.  We have learned to get by without the salted cod of the George’s Bank and the oysters of the Chesapeake.  The topic, however, more science-based than those two cartoons made to scare children into nagging their parents about fossil fuels, naturally leads to the question of population dynamics.  

(If you’re happy just to have viewed the cartons and read to here, you can skip the rest of this essay – unless you have a special interest in population dynamics. — kh)

A note on population dynamics

While we don’t really have a deep understanding of fisheries but we do know that  population dynamics in general are highly non-linear dynamical systems.  The most basic population dynamics formula was given by the Australian biologist Robert May as:

Xn+1 = rxn(1 – xn)

where r equals the driving parameter, the factor that causes the population to change, and xn represents the population of the species at a given time (a number between zero and one that represents the ratio of existing population to the maximum possible population, such as .75).  Changing the driving parameter, r, causes non-linear responses in the total population, as shown here, in which r  is increased from 2.7 to 4:

This diagram shows a population which, at an r of 2.7, re-stabilizes after perturbation (blue trace) then advancing through wild chaotic swings (looking cyclical but with non-repeating values) with r at 3.5 (red trace) to a total slamming up and down, even to seeming extinction, with an r of 4 (green trace).

There is another population dynamics formula:  the predator-prey model. In the real world, May’s population model and predator-prey interact – with predator-prey being a modifier of the r in May’s logistic formula. In real-world experiments, eliminating predators have resulted in unexpected results.   The results, as you can guess, have been highly non-linear. 

The Northwestern Atlantic Cod population has not entirely disappeared as the population was not confined to a single small isolated area (such as an island) but because there were wider connections to the entire Atlantic Ocean, recruitment could take place as some cod could move into the Northwestern Atlantic from elsewhere.  Nonetheless, despite reduced and limited cod fishing, the population has not yet recovered, 30 years later. “Atlantic cod fishery landings had declined from over 75 million pounds (34 million kg) in 1988 to just over 2 million pounds (0.9 million kg) in 2019 in the New England region.” [ source ]  Just 2.6% of the 1988 catch.

The same may be in store for Maine’s lobsters and clams if sensible harvest limits are not implemented – but as population dynamics are non-linear (chaotic) the future cannot be predicted. 

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Author’s Comment:

I don’t watch horror films.   Real life has enough uncertainty and plenty of unpleasant surprises as it is.

Making cartoons to scare little children is despicable.   Presenting false and misleading science information to adults is bad and damages human society.  The concept that a Noble Cause excuses the producers of this type of propaganda is an even bigger lie than those they tell.  That said, many of the people involved in the rabid climate crisis movement are well-meaning and good hearts, they have been led astray into delusion by people in whom they have had the misfortune to place their trust and been betrayed by those in whom they trusted.

I don’t celebrate Halloween either….

Thanks for reading.

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October 31, 2021 2:20 pm

Trick or treat?

Tom Halla
October 31, 2021 2:20 pm

I think there is a typo:50 C is hardly chilly, while 50 F is

Zig Zag Wanderer
Reply to  Tom Halla
October 31, 2021 2:46 pm

Wuss. Come to Australia!🤣

But seriously, once I was driving to see a mate during a summer evening, and remarked how nice the cool breeze was. I looked at the dashboard and it told me that the temperature was 30C (85F). I knew then that I had acclimatised to the tropics!

Reply to  Zig Zag Wanderer
October 31, 2021 6:46 pm

Warmer weather conditions are far better than being cold in my opinion after experiencing both.

It would also be good to have CO2 level much higher than 410 ppm and easily feed more people.

Reply to  Dennis
October 31, 2021 9:28 pm

Right on. I wish global warming were true, and the North Pole melted. The Earth would be a Bali-like paradise, the tropics not affected much (though the extra moisture in the air would mean much more rain for the Sahara and Arabian Deserts) and the rest of the planet would bloom like it was the Cretaceous.

michael hart
Reply to  Zig Zag Wanderer
November 1, 2021 3:42 am

Yeah. As a wussy Brit, I lived in Charleston SC for a few years.
When I first arrived I was astonished to see people out jogging in conditions I considered insufferable. When I left, after two broken air conditioners, it all seemed pretty run of the mill.

Reply to  michael hart
November 1, 2021 6:33 am

My job moved me to New Orleans with a territory along the Gulf coast from New Orleans to Panama City.

First year was nearly insufferable. After that, only a few days per year were thick cloying humid heat that restricted outdoor activities.

Like Zig Zag Wanderer, everyone came out in the evenings to take advantage of the coolness.

Many people that come to New Orleans believe the residents party nonstop. New Orleanians head home after work, shower and even nap. They change clothes and then go to parties.
People visiting tended to head right to the bars after work. By the time residents come out to party, the visitors were exhausted and inebriated.

When work moved me back North, I hated leaving.
I ended up wearing heavier coats, heavier shirts, long pants.
Moving from warm humid conditions to cold dry weather, I ended up applying copious cream several times per day to minimize chapping and eczema. Took me three chilly years to finally acclimate back to temperate conditions.

Paul C
Reply to  Zig Zag Wanderer
November 1, 2021 5:08 pm

My experience of acclimatisation was sailing from England to the Caribbean. One night, sailing between islands, ready to start watch at 4 a.m. was advised “you’ll need a coat – it’s really cold out there”. It was a chilly 24C – and being a northerner, donned my thick t-shirt, and long trousers as a concession to the “harsh” conditions! Back home, 24C is considered to be blistering heat.

Zig Zag Wanderer
October 31, 2021 2:46 pm


No warming since 1950,then?

Reply to  Kip Hansen
November 1, 2021 2:49 am

Well it is all over the papers and the gowk’s lantern today that the last 5/6/7/several (take your pick) years have been the hottest evvah.
When oh when will some MSM owner start telling their jounalists to start checking “facts” before printing/transmitting them? And don’t start me on Facebook/Meta …… .

Reply to  Oldseadog
November 1, 2021 10:48 am

Just imagine the feeding frenzy as media outlets finally realize that CAGW / CCC is rubbish, and they rush to put out breathless stories exposing the UNFCCC, the IPCC and all the hangers-on. It could feed headlines for years.

Rud Istvan
October 31, 2021 2:48 pm

One interesting Gulf of Maine fact. Cod are bottom feeders, and prey on juvenile lobsters when molting. The overfishing of the cod predator resulted in the increase in the juvenile lobster prey.

H. D. Hoese
Reply to  Kip Hansen
October 31, 2021 5:16 pm

Six decades ago I worked on the outer Virginia coast, previous observations (50s) predicted warming. Saw a small lobster sold for 50cents caught in a crab trap, herring caught offshore in cold current going south. In 1994 I went to a Nova Scotia fisheries meeting, couple of papers on physical changes. As to the cod – “…science of recruitment does not exist;…” a conclusion from a lifelong study of cold water fisheries— Cushing, D. H. 1996. Towards a science of recruitment in fish populations. Excellence in Ecology. Inter-Research 7. 175pp.

As for the Chesapeake they also had a probable exotic, imported oyster disease. (MSX), but blaming certain primates more important.

Reply to  H. D. Hoese
November 1, 2021 6:59 am

As for the Chesapeake they also had a probable exotic, imported oyster disease. (MSX), but blaming certain primates more important.”

Activists and government officials have been convinced that farms were flooding the Chesapeake with fertilizer runoff and animal fecal matter.

Authorities assembled teams of experts to track farm runoff to individual farms so they could fine the owners.
For the most part, they were unable to prove farm runoff polluted the Bay.

That situation is unchanged. Activists and government agencies still make the same claims and intimate the farms and farm animals are the cause while apparently ignoring suburban and urban sewage discharge.

It does not help that a herring factory sweeps the bay clean of herring while crab draggers dredge the Bay’s bottom every winter.
Herring are filter feeders that helped clean the water of the bay.

As you point out, MSX oyster disease is rampant in spite of government trying to seed resistant oysters.

The Chesapeake Bay oyster fishery for Crassostrea virginica (Gmelin) is in a state of continuing decline.

Two diseases, Haplosporidium nelsoni and Perkinsus marinus have effectively eliminated oysters from many sections of the Bay.

Despite over 30 years of disease activity the native oysters have developed neither tolerance nor absolute resistance to these diseases, and do not exhibit any recovery in disease endemic areas in Virginia.”

A situation that continues today.
Is it any wonder oysters continue to fail re-establishing throughout the bay?

October 31, 2021 4:12 pm

One claim out of China was that the virus entered China from Maine frozen lobsters. China is fishing the seas on an industrial scale…may be more threatened species. The hippos need water and a drought can result in a large hippo die off.

October 31, 2021 4:34 pm

“Ooh, scary!”, as Count Floyd would say.

Perhaps the scientists advising the government on fishing regulations and reduced catch are too busy screaming about nonexistent global warming problems.

Ron Long
October 31, 2021 4:48 pm

The premise is that the ocean water in the Gulf of Maine warmed up a little? Maybe? And the clever lobsters just moved where the sun don’t shine(Canada)? And ph 8 has something to do with acidity? You’re right not to scare children, Eric, but this also appears to be mis-educating them.

Charles Higley
October 31, 2021 5:05 pm

There is a 60 dear cycle of ocean temperatures up there, which lobstermen have know about for 100s of years. And lobsters have evolved to like the mid range between the high and low and the low and high temperatures, such that they enjoy more than half of the time of the cycle and not just the cold low, which they do NOT like. They are NOT cold loving. In the dead of winter they can become so lethargic that they have silt on them.

We went from 1950 warm peak to 2007 (~60 years) warm peak with the 1979 cold low. Now we are going down for about 20 years.

October 31, 2021 5:11 pm

Bad jokes time: You know what a piece of cod is?

Not being fond of fish, I can truly say “let the sharks have them” and just get on with other things.

No one is trick or treating in my AO this time, probably owing to the cost of providing kids with cars to haul them from door to door to collect their booty.

So, I do wish you all a Happy Halloween, and the Moon is waning tonight. Nice day, but chilly as all get-out! Happy to stay inside the cave where it is warm, dry and food is located.

Craig from Oz
Reply to  Sara
October 31, 2021 7:08 pm

You know what a piece of cod is?

A fillet?

D. J. Hawkins
Reply to  Sara
November 1, 2021 6:52 am

Locally, my oldest and a friend were transported by mom to several spots about town, but they used shank’s mare to get around. The car was respite from intermittent rains.

Dave Fair
Reply to  Sara
November 1, 2021 10:37 am

I know what a codpiece is.

Reply to  Sara
November 1, 2021 12:02 pm

is it related to spotted dick?

Craig from Oz
October 31, 2021 7:13 pm

Ph Panic!!!

Do these people every do some basic research (pun intended) and discover the Ph levels of things they have in their own home?

(Spoiler? If you believe the CO2 is making the oceans acidic, then stay away from lemons.)

John Hultquist
Reply to  Craig from Oz
October 31, 2021 7:48 pm

Not being fond of eating lemons ( pH 2 to 3 ), I searched up wine. Wine will have a pH range of 3.2 to 3.6; some reds a bit higher. 

October 31, 2021 8:22 pm

CO2 is the Baby… Fetal molecule. She’s a “burden”! Abort her, cannibalize her profitable parts, sequester her carbon pollutants. Boo!

October 31, 2021 8:24 pm

Mmm… lobster ice cream. h/t Homer

October 31, 2021 9:30 pm

As a Mainer who worked in the energy industry and know tons of fishermen, I have a little fishing secret to tell. The warm discharge water emitted from power plants are a favorite place for lobstah! I am not joking here. It’s so good that lobster traps are not allowed in those areas. The only problem are the out of staters who keep messing with the locals traps in normal fishing grounds, and useless bureaucrats who keep trying to shut the fisheries down when there is no need to.

October 31, 2021 10:19 pm

I thought the theory said that CO2 warmed the troposphere, not the ocean. Are lobsters living up there now too?

michael hart
November 1, 2021 3:33 am

Question: Is the catch size in the data independent of fishing-net size. By which I mean, the size of the fish caught? [as determined by the size of the holes in the net]

I know little about allowable net sizes in various jurisdictions, but have heard that this is very important. The fishes are said to come to sexual maturity at a smaller size now, because of the overfishing of the previously larger specimens. In other words, the fish are still there, but the evolutionary pressure of human fishing has caused them to become smaller.

Joseph Zorzin
November 1, 2021 4:31 am

“The Gulf of Maine average sea water temperature is currently about a rather chilly 50 ºF….”
On any very hot summer day in Maine, walk from the hot beach sand into the water and you almost freeze solid in seconds. It feels icy cold. Few people can actually swim in that water. It would be nice if the water temperature goes up SEVERAL degrees.

josh scandlen
Reply to  Kip Hansen
November 1, 2021 4:35 pm

I just learned a few years back that the water off California is COLD. Never knew that. I was blown away actually, as I remember when I was a kid in Maine and watching the Raiders or Rams play late in teh year.
The fans were all in shorts and were tanned. Yet, I was freezing my butt off in Maine. The idea that the CA water is nearly as cold as ours in Maine seems insane to me.

Bruce Cobb
November 1, 2021 6:17 am

They are using Boo-lean logic.

November 1, 2021 6:17 am

Yes, the waters of the Gulf of Main have been warming and cooling.”

Every so called claim that Maine’s lobsters are in danger or migrating or failing to reproduce, base their claims on sea surface temperatures, not temperatures where lobsters live deep down.

Ocean temperatures where lobsters live are virtually unchanged or in many cases, cooling.

Anyone who sees Gulf of Maine sea surface temperatures are bath water warm then tried swimming quickly learn that it is darn cold just a few feet deep.

Great article, Kip!

Reply to  Kip Hansen
November 3, 2021 11:40 pm

I believe the sea surface temperature maps are a combination of ships, buoys, satellite and coastal weather sensors…
Of course, the temperature infill and swage are highly popular.

I didn’t check the references to see what data they pulled/used, above. The other articles that I’ve seen were mostly published in ‘National Fisherman’ a magazine somewhat catering to commercial fishermen.

It is my understanding that official sea surface temperatures are considered as representing the top 2 meters, roughly 6.5 feet.

Unless, the local ocean is mixing the waters (storm) more and deeper.

I’ve swum in the waters off northern Massachusetts and New Hampshire. Stick your feet down and the water is chilly.
I’m not talking about the surf, but where deeper water is abundant. I’m not a beach bunny. I’m more of a fisherman and getting wet is just part of the attraction.

josh scandlen
November 1, 2021 4:32 pm

Great piece. My question, as someone who grew up on an island in Maine, is what is the evidence, if any, that lobster populations could be on the brink of the Cod, or oyster?

Was there any evidence at the time that the Cod was about to go the way of the dodo bird, so to speak?

Be interesting to see if there is some similarities, as opposed to fear-mongering by the Climate Change Nazi’s.

Paul C
November 1, 2021 5:38 pm

It is surprising to me that the magic molecule (CO2) has not been blamed for this actual problem in my locality . Fishermen are also finding lobsters with the same symptoms in their keep boxes. Coincidentally, the river Tees which has had heavy industry (metals, chemicals, shipbuilding, agrochemicals, explosives) along its shores for centuries is currently being dredged to a greater depth than it ever has been before.

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