Massive Toxic Algae Bloom Closing Some West Coast Shellfisheries

Jun 17, 2015

The west coast is seeing the largest bloom of toxic algae in more than a decade. It's led to the closure of some commercial crab and shellfisheries in Oregon, Washington and California.

This is a California sea lion on Long Beach, Washington, apparently experiencing seizures from domoic acid poisoning in May 2015.
Credit Dan Ayres / Washington Dept. of Fish & Wildlife

Wildlife managers spotted a sea lion in Longview, Washington that was arching its back, and then having seizures. They had to euthanize it.

The cause?

Pseudo-nitzchia. It’s a type of algae that releases a neurotoxin. If people eat shellfish or crabs contaminated with it, they can also suffer seizures, short term memory loss and even death.

The algae are thriving earlier in the season, thanks, in part, to a blob of warm water off the Northwest coast.

Vera Trainer, with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, says this could be a taste of future climate change impacts in the region.

Vera Trainer: “And what’s particularly worrisome is we’re not only seeing this one type of algal bloom, but two other types of algal blooms.”

Those blooms can cause paralysis and diarrhea.

The state Department of Health rigorously tests commercial shellfish, but warns that recreational harvesters should check the DOH website for maps of toxic algae hotspots.

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