'The Blob,' Domoic Acid: Extremely Poisonous Toxic Bloom Poses Serious Threat To West Coast

NOAA has warned communities on North America's west coast that a deadly algae bloom releasing the toxin domoic acid has reached levels higher than ever recorded. A concentrated area in the Pacific Ocean has been nicknamed "The Blob" by University of Washington climate scientist Nick Bond, and it may be causing the reaction that is killing marine life. Domoic acid is released by a marine algae bloom, and when fish, birds, sea lions, and other aquatic creatures feed and ingest the algae, they are becoming poisoned by the deadly toxin.

"This is unprecedented in terms of the extent and magnitude of this harmful algal bloom and the warm water conditions we're seeing offshore," Vera Trainer from the Northwest Fisheries Science Center explained, according to USA Today. "Whether they're related we can't really say yet, but this survey gives us the opportunity to put these pieces together."

Chris Scholin, president of the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute, said that the level of poisonous domoic acid found in the fish in the west coast's Half Moon Bay are the highest levels that have ever been recorded, according to the Half Moon Bay Review.

The toxic algae bloom that releases the domoic acid stretches from the Central California Coast all the way up to Alaska, as if Alaskans need more problems while facing disastrous forest fires from the state's uncommonly mild winter and hot spring.Early in June, the west coast saw the beginning of one of the largest closure of activities the shellfish industry has ever seen. Domoic acid isn't the only toxin the west coast has to worry about either. Two other toxins, which Trainer said are rarely seen together, are also showing up in marine life in Puget Sound and along the Washington Coast. Trainer says The Blob is the perfect condition for the coast-wide bloom given that the water is about two degrees warmer than it normally is, according to the Seattle Times.

Residents are warning animal caregivers not to allow their dogs to eat anything that is found washed up on the shore.

Scientists aren't exactly sure why the domoic acid-producing bloom is flourishing in the Pacific, but there may be a link with storm water runoff. The presence of urea, from human sources, seems to make the problem even worse. According to the University of Santa Cruz, Pseudo-nitzschia, a single-celled algae, can produce domoic acid under certain conditions. Scientists do know it's not El Niño causing the unpredictable poisonous bloom which mimics glutamic acid in its victims.

Domoic acid binds to glutamate receptors and kills the cells it attaches to. When sea lions, sea otters, and birds are poisoned by domoic acid, they become disoriented, suffer from seizures, and scratch themselves to the point of bleeding. Birds are literally dropping from the sky, because their motor skills are so damaged, according to the Santa Cruz Sentinel.Still, reportedly, the concentration of domoic acid in the water is not currently high enough to harm swimmers and surfers, according to CBS News.

[Photo by Jonathan Alcorn via Whale Rescue Team]