A bloom of ocean algae that produces a toxic acid has sickened and killed hundreds of birds, sea lions and dolphins in California, environmentalists said.
Birds and animals have been washing up on shores from San Diego to San Francisco Bay.
In the past week, 40 birds have been taken to the International Bird Rescue Center in San Pedro with symptoms of domoic acid poisoning, which attacks the brain and can cause seizures.
In previous seasons, the center might see seven birds a week, director Jay Holcomb said.
“I have been doing this work for 35 years and I have never seen anything like this as far as the number of species affected, other than an oil spill,” Holcomb said Thursday.
Domoic acid is produced by microscopic algae. Birds and sea mammals ingest the acid by eating fish and shellfish who dine on the algae.
The algae population increases or “blooms” every year as the ocean waters warm but this year’s bloom seems early, extensive and “very, very thick,” said David Caron, who teaches in the biological sciences department at University of Southern California.
“In five years of study I have not seen a bloom this large at this particular time of year,” Caron said. “It’s having an extraordinary impact on pelicans and many other species.”
“There are conceivably thousands of animals being affected,” Caron said.
Domoic acid is a naturally occuring toxin from red algae. Increased nutrient loadings into the ocean, and warming ocean temperatures are both linked with an increasing incidence of this toxic “red tide“. It is a naturally occurring phenomenon every year, so it is hard to tease out human inputs and just plain ol’ natural variation. One more thing to keep an eye on, I guess.
Statutory Disclaimer: I don’t actually believe in the rapture – it’s just a cheap rhetorical trick.