El Niño is coming, and bringing visitors to Calif. shores

The Pacific is warmer than ever thanks in part to a growing El Nino
The Pacific is warmer than ever thanks in par... 01:56

LOS ANGELES -- The Pacific Ocean is warmer than it's ever been thanks in part to a growing El Niño, bringing new visitors to California's shores.

Off the coast of Southern California, fisherman are having a field day hooking all sorts of tropical fish.

Whales are putting on a show in Monterrey Bay. And further south, kayakers are finding themselves surrounded by hammerhead sharks, rarely seen off California.

"El Nino," a warming of Pacific Ocean waters,... 02:06

Chris Lowe is a marine biologist and director of the shark lab at California State Long Beach. He says El Niño, a warming of ocean water near the equator, is shifting the ocean's ecosystem north.

"When you study marine life, El Niño's are really cool," said Lowe. "They bring a whole new cast of characters to our coastline that we don't typically get to see."

Such as millions of tiny red crabs that have covered beaches, and a highly venomous yellow-bellied sea snake -- the furthest north one has ever been found.

Red crabs on a Southern California beach CBS News

"We measure water temperatures as high as 80 degrees. That is very very unusual," Lowe said. "Many of these individuals may normally typically reside 1,000 miles south of here, but are now following that warm water looking for food."

Including the very top of the food chain. Tourists near Alcatraz watched as a great white shark attacked a sea lion. It's believed to be the first known sighting of a great white catching prey in San Francisco Bay.

Last year's extreme weather, including cyclon... 02:23

Sea lions are also starving to death because the small fish they eat have moved to colder waters -- another impact of El Niño.

El Niño is also expected to bring lots of rain to California this winter, which is welcome after four years of drought. El Niño fueled storms are expected to begin in January.

  • Ben Tracy
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    Ben Tracy is a CBS News senior national and environmental correspondent based in Washington, D.C.