Kristine Lofgren

Toxin is Causing Pelicans to Drop Dead Out of the Sky in California

by , 09/02/14

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All along California’s coastline fisheries have been shuttered, marine hospitals have been flooded and birds have been dropping dead right out of the sky. The problem? A dangerous neurotoxin called domoic acid. As nutrients from human activities are pushed into the ocean, dangerous algae blooms containing the toxin have started blooming more and more often and animals across the food chain are being poisoned as they eat it. And the danger isn’t restricted to sea life – the toxin poses a serious danger to humans as well.

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Septic tank waste, fertilizers and industrial pollution run off into the ocean and change the delicate balance of the ecosystem, causing algae to grow. Every year, according to Shawn Johnson, director of veterinary science at The Marine Mammal Center, the blooms get larger and more frequent and are harming more animals in the process. It’s getting so bad that The Center has broken its admission records  for poisoned animals this year.

Related: Climate Change and Agricultural Runoff to Cause Massive Algae Blooms in Lake Erie

The toxin works its way up the food chain as smaller fish consume the algae, which are then consumed by larger fish and eventually whales, otters, dolphins, sea lions and pelicans  - the latter of which have been seen literally dropping out of the sky. The toxin’s danger is when it accumulates up the food chain before being ingested, which is what happens with larger animals - including humans. Once ingested in a large enough dose, it can cause seizures vomiting, neurological damage and heart failure. And death can occur in as few as two days.

In April, multiple fisheries along the coast were closed because of high levels of the toxin, and though levels have dropped in recent weeks, animals continue to appear dead and dying along California’s shores. Scientists are uncertain where animals are still ingesting the toxin, making it difficult to regulate pollutants or monitor toxicity. If this last year is any indication, the problem will likely only continue to get worse.

Via Al Jazeera

Lead image via Shutterstock, image via  Phillip Capper

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