Hundreds of sea lions, dolphins are sprawled across the beaches in Southern California, either dead or sick and exhibiting abnormal behaviour, CNN reported.
As per CNN, officials have received more than 1,000 calls in recent weeks from beachgoers, tourists and residents reporting sick, dying and dead sea mammals washed ashore from Santa Barbara to San Diego County, amid a growing toxic algal bloom in the waters off the coast. A stranding coordinator with NOAA Fisheries, Justin Greenman told CNN that the wave of dead or sick animals is “one of the largest in memory. “It’s completely overwhelming,” he said.
And, Greenman said, it doesn’t appear to be ending any time soon.
Marine-life experts believe the harmful algal bloom is to blame, though they are waiting on test results to confirm it. The algae, Pseudo-Nietzsche, produces a neurotoxin called domoic acid, which can be poisonous to seabirds and fish once ingested. It can then travel across the food chain to larger marine animals like dolphins, sea lions and even humans, according to CNN.
Humans too can get sick from domoic acid if they eat contaminated food, although seafood is tested for this toxin to prevent it from reaching dinner tables. The California Department Of Health specifically warned against eating “sport-harvested mussels, clams or scallops from Santa Barbara County” after high levels of the toxin were detected there.
Co-founder and managing director of Channel Islands Marine and Wildlife Institute Ruth Dover said they have responded to more than 100 dead sea lions and 300 live sea lions exhibiting signs of ingesting domoic acid in Santa Barbara and Ventura counties.
The death toll for dolphins is now up to 100, the group said, which Greenman describes as unusual, particularly in how this bloom appears to be affecting species that typically dwell far from the shore, as per CNN.