A gigantic, toxic algal bloom that stretches from southern California to Alaska has forced numerous fisheries along the West Coast to shutter, in an unprecedented development that scientists warn could portend what's to come as the world's oceans continue warming due to climate change.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) said this week it is mobilizing scientists to gather more data on the bloom, which it called "extensive" and "harmful."
"While localized blooms of marine algae that naturally produce domoic acid are common in spring, the bloom that began earlier this year has grown into the largest and most severe in more than a decade," warned the agency. "Sardines, anchovy, and other fish that feed on the algae and other microorganisms known as plankton can accumulate the toxin, in turn poisoning birds and sea lions that feed on them."
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As The Seattle Times explained this week, "Scientists suspect this year’s unseasonably high temperatures are playing a role, along with 'the blob'—a vast pool of unusually warm water that blossomed in the northeastern Pacific late last year. The blob has morphed since then, but offshore waters are still about two degrees warmer than normal, said University of Washington climate scientist Nick Bond, who coined the blob nickname."
NOAA documented at least one incident last month in which a sea lion had a seizure on Long Beach, Washington (warning: video may be disturbing).
"For this type of algae, we believe this is certainly the biggest bloom we've seen on the west coast and perhaps anywhere ever," Michael Milstein of NOAA Fisheries told Common Dreams. "It's extensive and unprecedented in terms of geographic scope and severity of bloom, particularly in hot spots along the coasts."
Milstein said there could be a link between the giant algal bloom and global warming. "What we can say is that this is the type of condition we would expect to see more often with climate change."