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 user 2007-06-08 at 12:23:00 pm Views: 60
  • #18278

    Sickness in the Sea
    A large algae bloom off California is sickening or killing marine animals including sea lions, dolphins and whales.
    ANGELES (June 07) — A distressed, possibly pregnant sea lion was
    wheeled recently into the Marine  Mammal Care Center here, just as two
    other lions were herded into cages in preparation for their return to
    the ocean.An elephant seal pup is released from the Marine Mammal Care
    Center in Los Angeles. Acid from an algae bloom has sickened or killed
    animals including sea lions (a type of seal), dolphins and
    birds.“That’s just the way it is,” said Lauren Palmer, the chief
    veterinarian at the center. “Two go out and more come in.”

    Wallerstein of the Whale Rescue Team, a private group authorized by Los
    Angeles to rescue whales and other marine mammals, said he had found
    the sea lion on the sand in nearby Manhattan Beach. Mr. Wallerstein
    said he feared she could have been poisoned by domoic acid, a toxin
    released by large blooms of algae that causes seizures in sea
    lions.Southern California marine mammal hospitals have been overwhelmed
    by sea lions sick from the acid, which appeared in record levels off
    the coast of Los Angeles in April. Domoic acid poisoning has killed
    hundreds of the animals across Southern California this spring and
    thousands since a major outbreak in 2002, and has also afflicted
    animals in Monterey Bay, south of San Francisco.“In over 22 years of
    marine mammal rescues, I’ve never seen such distress of marine
    mammals,” Mr. Wallerstein said. “The stress and the fright, it’s kind
    of shocking.”The center here has taken in about 120 sea lions since
    March 1 and about 70 of those are suspected of having domoic acid
    poisoning, Dr. Palmer said. So far, about 35 percent of those who were
    found to have the poisoning have died; others have recovered and have
    been released, she said.

    Some sea lions at the center were young, emaciated pups, tiny bones poking through their sleek coats.
    April 26, domoic acid toxin levels in plankton along the Los Angeles
    coast were twice the previous recorded high, said Astrid Schnetzer, a
    research professor at the Caron Lab for Marine Environmental Biology at
    the University of Southern California. The toxin levels have since
    dissipated, but Ms. Schnetzer said a recurrence was possible.With an
    estimated population of 200,000 to 300,000, California sea lions are
    nowhere near endangered, but the deaths and the high toxin levels have
    scientists and environmentalists concerned. Ms. Schnetzer said
    scientists at the Caron Lab could not explain the high levels but were
    studying a combination of factors like climate change, pollution and
    nutrients in the water.Dr. Palmer and others emphasized that the
    commercial fish available in grocery stores and restaurants was safe
    because of government monitoring. Joe Cordero of the National Marine
    Fisheries Service, however, did urge anyone fishing off piers in
    Southern California to think twice before eating the catch (although he
    said the toxins generally appear in fish guts, not the flesh).

    50 dolphins, a minke whale and scores of sea birds have also been
    killed by this season’s toxic algae bloom, said Mr. Cordero, who had
    also monitored the two wayward humpback whales in the Sacramento River
    and dismissed suggestions that they were affected by domoic acid.Mr.
    Wallerstein said he had seen a change this season with more male sea
    lions and pups becoming sick. Normally, domoic poisoning affects
    pregnant sea lions, mainly because blooms come at the same time as the
    spring breeding season, when pregnant sea lions eat more.Last month, on
    the rocky beach in the Los Angeles district of San Pedro, Mr.
    Wallerstein watched proudly as the two rehabilitated sea lions and two
    abandoned elephant seal pups clambered awkwardly into the sea.“I very
    rarely get to see that,” Mr. Wallerstein said of the two lions,
    frolicking in the surf before heading out to sea