Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Algae Bloom Kills Sea Birds, Other Sea Life In Southern California In Record Numbers

Date:
April 28, 2007
Source:
International Bird Rescue Research Center
Summary:
The staff of the International Bird Rescue Research Center in San Pedro, California braces for the dead and dying birds they know will come, every spring. This spring is different. It's much worse, affecting more species of birds, pinepeds and possibly even whales. Beaches are littered with dead birds, seals, dolphins, otters, and in Santa Barbara a 29 foot sperm whale washed ashore.

The dead bird is a California Brown Pelican, an endangered species.
Credit: Copyright Rebecca Dmytryk Titus

It’s happened with predictable regularity, every spring since International Bird Rescue Research Center (IBRRC) opened its center in San Pedro in 2001. The staff at the center, which specializes in seabirds, and especially California brown pelicans, calls it DA; short for Domoic Acid. The staff braces for the dead and dying birds they know will come, every spring.

This spring is different. It’s much worse, affecting more species of birds, pinepeds and possibly even whales. Beaches are littered with dead birds, seals, dolphins, otters, and in Santa Barbara a 29 foot sperm whale washed ashore. The reasons for the deaths are not entirely certain, however, many of the animals tested were positive for domoic acid poisoning.

Jay Holcomb, IBRRC’s director has many questions, but not enough answers. “I have been doing this work for 35 years and I have never seen anything like this as far as the number of species affected, other than an oil spill,” Holcomb said.“We have very serious concerns about what is happening to seabirds, and how it may affect populations, especially California brown pelicans, who are heading into breeding season. The loss of breeding adults at this time may impact the next generation as well,” Holcomb said. (California brown pelicans are still on the Endangered Species List, but have been petitioned for de-listing).

Pelicans with domoic acid poisoning, which affects the brain, can have seizures while flying, causing them to literally fall from the sky. Some have crashed into car windshields or ended up in places they shouldn’t be, like airport runways and freeways. Holcomb believes many seabirds having seizures out at sea drown, making it virtually impossible to count the bodies.

Although domoic acid is a naturally occurring toxin produced by microscopic algae, something is making recent blooms of the algae especially virulent. IBRRC is working closely with the Caron Laboratory at USC, providing body fluids from suspect birds for analysis. Professor Dave Caron and Assistant Research Professor Astrid Schnetzer test the waters off Southern California and alert the center when domoic acid is present. The staff then braces and prepares the ICU. The only way to save the birds is to flush the toxins out of their systems, a labor intensive process.

This spring dead birds began littering beaches in March. IBRRC rescue personnel walking the beaches reported “dead birds everywhere.” Species included grebes, gulls, cormorants, American avocets and loons. Not all test positive for DA. But other neurotoxins such as saxitoxin which can cause paralytic shellfish poisoning in humans, are also being examined by Dave Caron and Astrid Schnetzer. They are studying the birds with the help of IBRRC staff who provide fresh blood and body fluids of all sick birds. Long-time volunteer, Susan Kaveggia, orchestrates the sampling and has been instrumental in forging the relationship with USC.

The Marine Mammal Care Center, which is next door to IBRRC in Fort MacArthur, has been overwhelmed with sick seals and sea lions who eat the same fish as pelicans; anchovies and sardines. The fish eat the affected algae, which don’t kill them, but the animals that eat the fish get concentrated amounts, depending on how many affected fish they eat. Whether they live or die depends how much of the poison they ingest. Many of these sick animals have been tested by Caron and Schnetzer. More than half of those tested have been positive for DA over the past few days.

Humans have died from eating contaminated mussels. Many times people don’t know what made them sick so they don’t report it to health authorities. In humans, domoic acid poisoning can cause vomiting, nausea, diarrhea, abdominal cramps, headache, dizziness, confusion, disorientation, loss of short-term memory, motor weakness, seizures, cardiac arrhythmias, coma and possibly death. Short term memory loss is permanent, thus the name Amnesic Shellfish Poisoning.Birds and pinepeds exhibit similar symptoms. Because the toxin affects the brain, the long term effects of DA poisoning aren’t known, something that concerns Holcomb.

“In my opinion, domoic acid is the new DDT,” Holcomb said. “If the effects of DA poisoning are cumulative in the brain, and we don’t know that yet, it could have serious consequences on the population of California Brown Pelicans. As of this point, we just don’t know.”


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by International Bird Rescue Research Center. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

International Bird Rescue Research Center. "Algae Bloom Kills Sea Birds, Other Sea Life In Southern California In Record Numbers." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 28 April 2007. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/04/070427084149.htm>.
International Bird Rescue Research Center. (2007, April 28). Algae Bloom Kills Sea Birds, Other Sea Life In Southern California In Record Numbers. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 31, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/04/070427084149.htm
International Bird Rescue Research Center. "Algae Bloom Kills Sea Birds, Other Sea Life In Southern California In Record Numbers." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/04/070427084149.htm (accessed July 31, 2014).

Share This




More Plants & Animals News

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Raw: Thousands Flocking to German Crop Circle

Raw: Thousands Flocking to German Crop Circle

AP (July 30, 2014) Thousands of people are trekking to a Bavarian farmer's field to check out a mysterious set of crop circles. (July 30) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Concern Grows Over Worsening Ebola Crisis

Concern Grows Over Worsening Ebola Crisis

AFP (July 30, 2014) Pan-African airline ASKY has suspended all flights to and from the capitals of Liberia and Sierra Leone amid the worsening Ebola health crisis, which has so far caused 672 deaths in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone. Duration: 00:43 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
At Least 20 Chikungunya Cases in New Jersey

At Least 20 Chikungunya Cases in New Jersey

AP (July 30, 2014) At least 20 New Jersey residents have tested positive for chikungunya, a mosquito-borne virus that has spread through the Caribbean. (July 30) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Xtreme Eating: Your Daily Caloric Intake All On One Plate

Xtreme Eating: Your Daily Caloric Intake All On One Plate

Newsy (July 30, 2014) The Center for Science in the Public Interest released its 2014 list of single meals with whopping calorie counts. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

    Environment News

    Technology News



      Save/Print:
      Share:

      Free Subscriptions


      Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

      Get Social & Mobile


      Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

      Have Feedback?


      Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
      Mobile: iPhone Android Web
      Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
      Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
      Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins