Dozens of the marine animals are being found on the California beaches exhibiting signs of domoic acid poisoning

What’s ailing the sea lions stranded on California beaches

The concerned calls began in mid-August. Sea lions – mostly adult females – were turning up along the southern California coast with signs of poisoning: disoriented and agitated, with their heads bobbing and their mouths foaming. Marine animal organizations say they were inundated with inquiries from alarmed beachgoers. “We are responding to 50-100 calls a day,” the Channel Islands Marine and Wildlife Institute, which works in the island region off the coast of Los Angeles, wrote on Instagram. The cause was quickly determined to be domoic acid poisoning – a naturally occurring neurotoxin that’s produced by a tiny single-celled marine algae. The neurotoxin accumulates in crustaceans, small fish and squid, and then gets transferred to larger predators, such as the sea lions. While most animals usually recover within a few days from the worst symptoms after passing the acid through their urine, the Channel Islands institute said, more than 60 sea lions have been stranded in recent weeks. One died after suffering a seizure on a crowded beach near the Ventura pier. California beaches, Scientists are now working to figure out exactly what happened and what made this particular algal bloom so severe. They’re also exploring how warming oceans are altering how domoic acid, found abundantly along the California coast, is behaving. Clarissa Anderson, a scientist who directs the Southern California Coastal Ocean Observing System, was among those receiving messages about sick sea lions.

She immediately checked observation stations that take weekly sampling at piers up and down California’s coastline None of the samples from close to shore were showing any blooms, she says, indicating the event seemed to be taking place in the deeper waters near the Channel Islands, where most of the sick sea lions were turning up. Blooms of the algae that creates the neurotoxin are a natural seasonal occurrence in California, California beaches, Anderson says, but having one so late in the summer is unusual. “We expect that more to peak in April or May,” Anderson says, because the organism is highly responsive to coastal upwelling – when high winds cause deep waters to rise to the surface, bringing up nutrients that the algae needs to thrive. The acid can be passed from animals to humans who eat toxic seafood – within 30 minutes to 24 hours after eating, people may experience vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal cramps, headache and dizziness. Crustaceans, fish and shellfish can all have high levels of domoic acid in them without showing symptoms, according to the California department of public health. Also known as red tide, the threat of the toxin has previously closed down razor clam and crab fishing seasons from Monterey Bay to Alaska, costing the fishing industry millions in lost earnings. Vera Trainer, a scientist with the Noaa north-west fisheries science center, says that scientists studying the big blooms in the Pacific north-west have found how resilient the organism is. “They are able to withstand very intense and stressful environments,” she says, falling as marine snow to the bottom of the ocean and waiting in a hibernation-like state for the right nutrients to bounce back and return to the surface.

Source: This news is originally published by theguardian

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