A toxic algae bloom spreading off the Pacific coast could be the largest one scientists have ever seen.
You wouldn’t know it by looking — the bloom consists of microscopic algae that give the water a vague brown-green cast — but chemical analyses and satellite images show that a large swatch of the ocean is being overtaken by a single-celled algae called Pseudo-nitzschia that produces domoic acid, a powerful neurotoxin.
“Currently what we’re seeing is this large bloom taking place from about Santa Barbara all the way up to Alaska,” said Kudela, who is leading a study on harmful algal blooms funded by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association. “We’ve been keeping track since the beginning of May.”
Domoic acid accumulates in small fish and shellfish at the bottom of the food web, which are then eaten by mammals and birds — and sometimes humans. Consuming too much domoic acid overstimulates the nervous system, causing animals to become lethargic or disoriented. It can also lead to seizures and death.
The dangers of domoic acid have been well known and closely monitored since 1987 when a number of people died from eating Prince Edward Island mussels that were loaded with the toxin.
A list of biotoxin and sanitary fisheries closures in Canada can be found on the Fisheries and Oceans website pac.dfo-mpo.gc.ca.
Californians have been advised to steer clear of all anchovies and sardines, as well as recreationally harvested mussels and clams fished in Monterey or Santa Cruz counties. The internal organs of crabs — also known as “crab butter” — should be avoided, according to the state Department of Public Health.
Source: [CBS News]