Scientists onboard a NOAA research vessel are beginning a survey of what could be the largest toxic algae bloom ever recorded off the West Coast. (Click link to read NOAA Fisheries (pdf), Jun 15, 2015 report.)
The effects stretch from Central California to British Columbia, and possibly as far north as Alaska. Dangerous levels of the natural toxin domoic acid have shut down recreational and commercial shellfish harvests in Washington, Oregon and California this spring, including the lucrative Dungeness crab fishery off Washington’s southern coast and the state’s popular razor-clam season.
At the same time, two other types of toxins rarely seen in combination are turning up in shellfish in Puget Sound and along the Washington coast, said Vera Trainer, manager of the Marine Microbes and Toxins Programs at the Northwest Fisheries Science Center in Seattle.
“The fact that we’re seeing multiple toxins at the same time, we’re seeing high levels of domoic acid, and we’re seeing a coastwide bloom — those are indications that this is unprecedented,” Trainer said.
“This is perfect plankton-growing weather,” said Dan Ayres, coastal shellfish manager for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.
Domoic-acid outbreaks aren’t unusual in the fall, particularly in razor clams, Ayres said. But the toxin has never hit so hard in the spring, or required such widespread closures for crabs.
“This is new territory for us,” Ayres said. “We’ve never had to close essentially half our coast.”
The ship will sample from the Mexican border to Vancouver Island in four separate legs.
“By collecting data over the full West Coast with one ship, we will have a much better idea of where the bloom is, what is causing it, and why this year,” University of California, Santa Cruz ocean scientist Raphael Kudela said in an email.
He and his colleagues found domoic-acid concentrations in California anchovies this year as high as any ever measured. “We haven’t seen a bloom that is this toxic in 15 years,” he wrote. “This is possibly the largest event spatially that we’ve ever recorded.”
On Washington’s Long Beach Peninsula, Ayres recently spotted a sea lion wracked by seizures typical of domoic-acid poisoning. The animal arched its neck repeatedly, then collapsed into a fetal position and quivered. “Clearly something neurological was going on,” he said. Wildlife officials euthanized the creature and collected fecal samples that confirmed it had eaten prey — probably small fish — that in turn had fed on the toxic algae.
The article goes on, at great length, to blame global warming and warmer ocean temperatures for this occurrence, but my first thought was Fukushima, as there have been reports over the last four years that radiation is leaking into the groundwater. Is it leaking into the ocean as well? If so, how much and for how long?
There is still a danger of nuclear radiation around its reactors and the villages near the site will remain a virtual no-go zone for inhabitants for an unpredictably long time.
We know we don’t get the whole truth from the media on practically every possible topic, so what’s to say this ‘unprecedented’ blob of algae wasn’t caused by the Fukushima disaster.