Massive algae bloom causing seizures in sea lions

Alison Morrow reports

In recent video from Long Beach, a sea lion does something researchers have never seen before on Washington's coast.

"A sea lion with his head arched back, he's basically having seizures," said NOAA Fisheries Research Oceanographer Vera Trainer.

The reason for the seizure is in a laboratory refrigerator at NOAA's Northwest Fisheries Science Center in Seattle.

It's an algae called pseudo-nitzschia, and while each cell is microscopic, millions together on Washington's are massively destructive.

"We're seeing effects on marine ecosystem we haven't seen before," Trainer said.

The algal bloom is unprecedented in size. It extends from southern California to Alaska. Though invisible, it produces a toxin called domoic acid.

The toxin has already closed crab and razor clam fisheries. Now, its effects are spreading to mammals.

"I think it's scary," Trainer said. "When we see marine mammals suffering from these toxins, they're not that far in the food chain from us."

NOAA fisheries scientists have deployed to study it. They're joining other researches to trace where the toxic cells are, just how toxic they are, and what's feeding their growth.

They believe "the blob" is partially to blame, a large expanse of warmer water off the coast.

With the information, they suspect they may not be able to stop the algae, but learn how to live with it.

"But we're able to figure out how to live with them," Trainer said. "This is just one animal found on the beach. You wonder what animals that aren't on the beaches, what's happening to them."


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