Disclaimer: These postings were sent to us from a variety of media sources over the Internet. The content has not been reviewed for scientific accuracy or edited in any manner.

Harmful Algae Bloom Detected in the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary

From National Marine Sanctuary Program
Thursday, September 7, 2000

Beachgoers asked to report sick birds and mammals, and leave dead animals on the beach

MONTEREY--Scientists from NOAA, the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute, the University of California at Santa Cruz, and Moss Landing Marine Laboratories have detected a harmful algae bloom offshore and entering the Monterey Bay. The bloom is composed of the diatom Pseudonitzschia australis, which is known to produce a harmful biotoxin called domoic acid.

In 1998, domoic acid was linked to the deaths of more than 50 California sea lions in a similar event. The 1998 event was the first time that collaborating researchers identified domoic acid in marine mammals on the West Coast. Since June 23rd of this year, The Marine Mammal Center has rescued over 100 California sea lions exhibiting seizure activity associated with domoic acid toxicity in the San Luis Obispo area.

Dr. Chris Scholin, a molecular biologist with the Monterey Bay Aquarium Institute, is aboard the research vessel New Horizon, and discovered Pseudonitzschia australis in concentrations of 1 million cells per liter in the north end of Monterey Bay and along the coast up to Ano Nuevo. Under normal circumstances, the diatom is found in concentrations of less than 100 cells per liter. Ocean currents will likely expand the range of the current bloom to other parts of Monterey Bay. Dr. Scholin will remain at sea for the next week while he, and other regional scientists, track this bloom and analyze mussels, sardines, anchovy, squid, krill and even whale feces for the presence of this diatom. They are studying how the toxin is transported through the food web.

"We are asking people to note the location, size and behavior of stranded marine mammals and birds and report it to the appropriate stranding networks," said Andrew DeVogelaere, Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary Research Coordinator. "We need to collect samples from these animals to determine the presence of domoic acid. It's important, however, that people no touch or disturb these stranded animals." If treated early, these animals may recover from the domoic acid exposure. For stranded marine mammals, in the Monterey Bay area please contact The Marine Mammal Center at (415) 289-7325 and for seabirds, please contact the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals at (831) 373-2634.

Produced by a photosynthetic diatom/algae, domoic acid moves up the food chain when other organisms, such as shellfish or zooplankton, consume the algae. In animals, domoic acid affects the nervous system, causing disorientation and seizures which can also lead to death. In humans, domoic acid poisoning has been known to cause short-term memory loss (known as Amnesic Shellfish Poisoning), disorientation, diarrhea, vomiting, and abdominal cramping.

The following web sites have information on harmful algal blooms, beach surveys & marine mammals:

For more information contact:

Harmful Algal Bloom Biology: Chris Scholin, Molecular Biologist, Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute, (831) 775-1779

Harmful Algae Bloom Forecasts: Kevin Sellner, NOAA ECOHAB Coordinator, (301) 713-4044

Beach Surveys and Sanctuary: Andrew DeVogelaere, NOAA's Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, (831) 647-4213

Human Health: Gregg W. Langlois, CA Department of Health Services, Marine Biotoxin Program, (510) 540-3423

Transfer of toxins through the food web: Dr. Mary Silver, U.C. Santa Cruz, (831) 459-2908

Stranded Marine Mammals: Susan Andres, The Marine Mammal Center, (415) 289-7369

For more information, contact:

Andrew DeVogelaere, Research Coordinator National Marine Sanctuary Program
Web site: http://www.sanctuaries.nos.noaa.gov