Toxic algae blooms along California coast, poisoning sea lions

Toxic algae blooms along California coast, poisoning sea lions

California sea lions Zalophus californianus at Moss Landing in 2008. Source: Brocken Inaglory, CC SA 2.0.

A recent growth of harmful algae along the coast of southern California is producing high concentrations of a toxin that affects California sea lions.

The problem started somewhere in the middle of August. The keeperwhen, along the southern coast of California, adult sea lions, mostly females, began to appear with signs of poisoning: disoriented and agitated, bobbing heads and foaming at the mouth.

Marine animal organizations say they have been bombarded with questions from anxious beachgoers. “We answer 50-100 calls a day” Marine and Wildlife Institute of the Channel Islandswho operates in an island area off the coast of Los Angeles,” wrote on Instagram.

It was quickly determined that the culprit domoic acid poisoning is a naturally occurring neurotoxin produced by tiny, single-celled algae. The neurotoxin accumulates in crustaceans, small fish and squid and is then passed on to larger predators such as sea lions.

According to the California Harmful Algae Risk Mapping System (C-HARM), the growth of toxic algae Pseudonichia expected to continue in the coming days NOAA Fisheries.

Marine conditions tend to favor outbreaks, and seafood is regularly tested for domoic acid, which can cause amnestic shellfish poisoning in humans.

Clarissa Anderson, a scientist who runs the Coastal Ocean Observing System in Southern California, was among those who received reports of sick sea lions. She immediately checked the observation stations that sample the piers up and down the California coast weekly.

Anderson says this late blooming in summer is unusual. “We expect this to peak in April or May,” Anderson says, because the organism is very sensitive to coastal upwelling—when strong winds force deep waters to rise to the surface, raising the nutrients algae need to thrive—which is normal and happening. Spring.

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