An algal bloom off the California coast is causing record deaths amongst sea birds (and likely sea lions, dolphins, and other animals), with 40 birds being found dead in the past week. There are blooms nearly every year, but this one is far more intense than those observed previously. The bloom poses a danger to people as well, seafood having the potential to contain the toxins that are killing off the animals (the effects randing from naseua to brain damage to death if ingested). What’s the toxin being produced that is responsible? Domoic acid.
This story reminds me of a fictional book by James Powlik called Sea Change, a good science-thriller featuring a deadly strain of the dinoflagellate pfiesteria that emitted toxic fumes and essentially melted all those unlucky enough to swim through it. You’ll probably like it if you’re a fan of older Crichton or Douglas Preston/Lincoln Child’s The Relic (one of my favorite fiction books, ever), and I’m surprised more people haven’t read it.
I also have to wonder if we’re going to see more algal blooms as a result of global climate change, or how plankton in general is going to be affected. Forams have been useful in the past for detecting extinctions and climate change, so hopefully some people are keeping track of them now so we can get some clues as to what’s happening in the oceans. While the charismatic megafauana (sharks, penguins, whales, etc.) often get lots of attention, they’ve got no chance is plankton levels crash and the entire food web breaks down, so it would really be in our best interests to determine what is going to happen to plankton and algal blooms as climate change continues.