Domoic acid poisoning and algae bloom in oceans

A bloom of ocean algae that produces a toxic acid which attacks the brain and can cause seizures, has sickened and killed hundreds of birds, sea lions and dolphins in California, environmentalists said on Friday, April 27, 2007

Birds and animals have been washing up on shores from San Diego to San Francisco Bay.

Domoic acid is produced by microscopic algae. Birds and sea mammals ingest the acid by eating fish and shellfish who dine on the algae.

The algae population increases or "blooms" every year as the ocean waters warm, but this year's bloom seems early, extensive and "very, very thick," said David Caron, who teaches at the University of Southern California.

"There are conceivably thousands of animals being affected," Caron said. The toxin has been swifter and deadlier than usual, she said. Humans cannot be harmed by swimming in algae blooms, consuming fish and shellfish, lobsters and crabs tainted with the acid can cause nausea, seizures and even death.

A domoic outbreak in 2002 and 2003 sickened or killed more than a thousand sea lions and 50 dolphins, said Joe Cordaro, a biologist with the National Marine Fisheries Services. © Associated Press 2007