Alaska marine mammals are found with harmful algae toxins, in a research conducted by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, along with other environmental agencies between 2004 and 2013.
Their results are troubling, to say the least. As it turns out, there are 13 species of marine mammals residing on the Alaskan coast, which present natural poisoning substances coming from harmful algae.
According to experts, these toxins could increase as the water temperatures get higher and the sea continues to melt, which creates a more favorable environment for these substances to develop.
In order to conduct their research, the scientists hunted, captured and stranded over 900 marine mammals. They then examined the animals’ stomach content, urine and feces in the search of two types of toxins.
The test results revealed that 10 out of the 13 species analyzed presented a substance called Saxitoxin, while Domoic acid was found in all the mammals examined. An intriguing fact is that pacific walruses presented the highest level of both toxins discovered.
Ever since 1998, there has been a large number of deaths among sea lions found in Central California, due to an increased level of algal toxin. Serious health concerns started to appear after this, with people wondering whether it is still safe for humans to consume clams.
According to Kathi Lefebvre, research biologist at the NOAA, this is the first extensive research on toxic algae ever conducted north of the Arctic Circle.
Algae are a type of organisms that float in the water and are carried away by ocean currents. When they become harmful, they grow very quickly, splitting up and creating dense blooms. This is a very dangerous phenomenon, seeing how these organisms are commonly eaten by zooplankton, clams and shellfish, among others.
These filter feeders are, in turn, eaten by seals, polar bears and other marine mammals, thus transmitting the toxicity even further.
While researchers are confident that these toxins do not represent a health risk for humans, they could not say whether they would cause an impact for the marine animals that they tested.
They were also unable to conclude whether these toxins are indeed related to the marine mammal deaths from 2015, when 30 whales were found on the shores of Alaska.
Alaska is home to a wide variety of marine mammals, ranging from polar bears, beluga whales, sea otters, porpoises, dolphins and many more.
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