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Algae is toxic to sea life

June 14, 2005|Scott Doggett

A bloom of toxic phytoplankton off Southern California threatens sea lions and other marine life that feed on sardines, anchovies and other small fish, authorities warn.

"We could have a big die-off," says Dennis Kelly, chairman of the Marine Science Department at Orange Coast College in Costa Mesa.

Dozens of pregnant sea lions suffering from domoic acid poisoning beached themselves in Southern California last week. A microscopic algae produces the toxin that causes brain damage in marine mammals, but does not appear to affect fish.

Joe Cordaro, a wildlife biologist with the National Marine Fisheries Service, says it's too early to tell if a major die-off is imminent. He says water samples taken near Santa Catalina Island contain the algae that produces the acid, but added "it's not a widespread bloom right now."

Toxic phytoplankton outbreaks off the coast killed 1,500 sea lions and dolphins in 2002 and 2003.

Scott Doggett

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