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southern sea otter Langly
algal bloom off the coast of Washington state

Unprecedented Toxic Algal Bloom Linked to Unusual Ocean Conditions

An unprecedented coastwide toxic algal bloom linked to anomalous ocean conditions
  • Domoic acid


A coastwide bloom of the toxigenic diatom Pseudo‐nitzschia in spring 2015 resulted in the largest recorded outbreak of the neurotoxin, domoic acid, along the North American west coast. Elevated toxins were measured in numerous stranded marine mammals and resulted in geographically extensive and prolonged closures of razor clam, rock crab, and Dungeness crab fisheries. We demonstrate that this outbreak was initiated by anomalously warm ocean conditions. Pseudo‐nitzschia australis thrived north of its typical range in the warm, nutrient‐poor water that spanned the northeast Pacific in early 2015. The seasonal transition to upwelling provided the nutrients necessary for a large‐scale bloom; a series of spring storms delivered the bloom to the coast. Laboratory and field experiments confirming maximum growth rates with elevated temperatures and enhanced toxin production with nutrient enrichment, together with a retrospective analysis of toxic events, demonstrate the potential for similarly devastating ecological and economic disruptions in the future. 

McCabe, R.M., Hickey, B.M., Kudela, R. M., Lefebvre, K. A., Adams, N.G., Bill, B.D., Gulland, F.M.D., Thomson, R.E., Cochlan, W.P., Trainer, V.L. 2016. An unprecedented coastwide toxic algal bloom linked to anomalous ocean conditions. Geophysical Research Letters. 43. doi: 10.1002/2016GL070023

domoic acid

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