Scientists sound alarms over toxic algae off U.S. West Coast


James Wright, Senior Editor

Published on
June 17, 2015

U.S. marine biologists are worried that a toxic algae bloom off the West Coast — potentially the largest ever recorded in the region — could threaten shellfish harvests this summer in Oregon and Washington waters. Federal researchers left the Oregon coast on Monday to survey the naturally occurring phenomenon.

High levels of domoic acid have already curtailed shellfish harvesting in the Pacific Northwest, reported the Seattle Times. What’s more, there are two other types of toxins turning up in shellfish in Puget Sound and along the Washington coast.

“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,” Vera Trainer, manager of the Marine Microbes and Toxins Programs at the Northwest Fisheries Science Center in Seattle, told the newspaper.

Unseasonably high temperatures and dense nutrients are suspected causes, as well as a pool of unusually warm water the scientists are calling “the blob.” These waters are about 2 degrees F warmer than normal, prime conditions for plankton growth.

Scientists on the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s research vessel Bell M. Shimada (pictured) will collect water and algae samples from the Mexican border to the Canadian border and test plankton-eating fish like sardines and anchovies. The ship’s primary mission is to assess sardine and hake populations.

University of Santa Cruz ocean scientist Raphael Kudela told the Times that the levels of domoic acid found in sardines this year are the highest 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.”

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