California Sea Lions Are Dying From Toxic Algae Blooms

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California sea lions are suffering from brain damage caused by digesting fish that have been feeding on toxic algae.

Marine Animal Rescue in L.A. County reported no incidents of domoic acid poisoning for last year. This year they have reported 33 so far in April alone.

Domoic acid is a neurotoxin in the algae which fish eat.

The Huffington Post reports:

Domoic acid poisoning is emerging as a key threat this year to the animals that ingest the toxin while eating fish and other sea creatures that feed on algae, rescue organizations in southern California warn.

Some birds and dolphins have also been affected by the algae, which authorities warn can be harmful to humans who eat shellfish.

The neurotoxin that the Pseudo-nitzschia algae produces can destroy the brains of sea lions until they no longer know basic survival functions, such as how to evade predators and find food. It can cause sea lions to have seizures and paralysis, while one of the key signs of this dementia is when they are seen rolling their heads repeatedly.

And a spokesman for the Channel Islands Marine and Wildlife Institute told the Ventura County Star that this is the “worst year ever” for cases of domoic acid poisoning.

Marine Animal Rescue has reported picking up 33 disoriented sea lions suffering from symptoms this month alone.

In Laguna Beach, the Pacific Marine Mammal Center has reported 14 sea lion deaths so far this month from domoic acid poisoning. Many of the effected animals were pregnant females, primarily because they’re feeding especially heavily now to support their pregnancies.

Rescue centers try to flush the toxin out of an animal’s system, but sometimes their brains are too significantly damaged to save.

No cases in humans have yet been reported this year. Commercially harvested seafood is tested before it goes to market, but the California Department of Health sent out a warning last week against eating mussels, clams or whole scallops harvested by sports shellfish collectors in Santa Barbara County.

“Dangerous levels of domoic acid have been detected in mussels from this region, making them unsafe to consume,” the statement warned.

The Southern California Coastal Ocean Observing Systems at Scripps Institution of Oceanography issued a domoic acid alert last week off Orange County.

Domoic acid poisoning was also a major problem 10 years ago, when 175 sea lions reportedly showed clinical signs of being affected. But the sheer number of animals the algae has sickened in such a short space of time this year has shocked welfare groups.