Toxic algal bloom kills California sea lions and dolphins

News : Toxic algal bloom kills California sea lions and dolphins
A sick sea lion is marked with paint and left on the beach, not able to be rescued due to overcrowded facilities, Redondo Beach, California, United States, June 23, 2023, credit: Reuters/Mike Blake

A lethal toxic algal bloom is killing sea lions and dolphins in the United States. The animals are washing up on the beaches of California in distressing numbers.

The algae produce a lethal toxic substance called domoic acid, which can severely harm and even kill marine animals. Due to overcrowded rescue centers, sick animals are marked with paint and left on beaches.

“This is an ecological emergency that’s occurring because of a very large algal bloom out of the Pacific Ocean that is causing domoic acid toxicosis (poisoning) in our sea lions and in our dolphin populations in large numbers,” John Warner, CEO of the Marine Mammal Care Center in San Pedro, said.

According to Warner, the increase of harmful algal bloom, also known as red tide, results from climate change, warming ocean temperatures, and the discharge of nitrates. “We have documented thousands of dolphins and sea lions stranding and/or washing up dead in Southern California,” he said.

Sea lions and dolphins are infected through the food chain, Warner explained, by eating small fish who may have ingested the algae. Animals affected by the neurological toxin show alarming symptoms.

“They’ll come out of the water, and sometimes they just sit in one place, and they don’t really respond to what’s around them. Animals are just lying on the beach. They’re not responsive,” Lauren Palmer, a veterinarian treating the affected sea animals at the center, said.

“They might be seizing. They might be drooling, gazing up at the stars in the sky, just not acting normally. And they don’t respond to people in a normal way during this state,” she added.

Animals who are still alive are given medicine and fluids at the center, “we do hope that by keeping them hydrated, it will help them clear the toxin on their own.”

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