Ocean experts are joining forces to hunt for a new lethal enemy that could cause confusion, gastrointestinal problems and even death: toxic algae blooms.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association’s fisheries service deployed its probe team last week on a close-to- three-month expedition to search the Pacific from Southern California to as far as Canada. Its objective is to locate the whereabouts of the dangerous algal blooms that contain neurotoxins that cause domoic acid poisoning.
Earlier, two major fisheries halted their operations after so many animals got severely sick following their consumption of the toxic algae. Even the Dungeness crab fishery in Washington was not spared, leaving fisher folks no choice but to sail farther offshore.
Certain states in the US have issued warnings to the public. Washington and Oregon have momentarily banned razor clams, sardines and anchovies in their markets. Californians are alerted against mussels and clams fished in Monterey or Santa Cruz counties. The Californian Department of Public Health has instructed people to avoid “crab butter”, the internal organs of crabs, which could contain toxins. All these precautionary measures are put in place after clinical studies yield data that shellfish and coastal fin species such as have been found with domoic acid levels more than five times the limit for human consumption in the three aforementioned American states.
Recently, nine fin whales died. At present, Alaskan researchers are investigating the possible connection between these mammal deaths to the toxic plankton.
Experts consider the series of deaths a serious threat, especially in the West Coast, where the worst toxic algal outbreak ever is recorded, this, according to Vera Trainer, manager of the Marine Biotoxin Program at NOAA’s Northwest Fisheries Science Center.
She explains the magnitude of the problem: “We saw the first sea lion having seizures because of this toxin a couple weeks ago on a Washington beach. All the signs are pointing to this being a really unusual event that is very widespread. That’s the reason we sent folks on the National Marine Fisheries cruise to document the offshore occurrences of the toxins.”
Although Southern California isn’t as affected by the toxic plague as Northern California, scientist are cautioning its people, reminding them that the “outbreak is spreading faster and has lasted longer” than any other algal poisonings in the past.
Researchers surmise that the outbreak may have something to do with the “ ‘warm blob,’ a vast pool of warmer water that formed in 2014 in the northeastern Pacific Ocean, and the increasing influx of warm El Nino waters.”