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Monday, January 21 , 2019, 8:52 pm | Fair 53º


Domoic Acid Poisonings Subside After Hundreds of Birds, Marine Mammals Die

Experts say proliferation of the neurotoxin isn’t rare, though the event is unusual this time of year

Many of the sea birds and marine mammals commonly seen along Santa Barbara’s coastline, including sea lions, were discovered dead or emaciated in recent months due to domoic acid poisoning, caused by a neurotoxin from algae. Click to view larger
Many of the sea birds and marine mammals commonly seen along Santa Barbara’s coastline, including sea lions, were discovered dead or emaciated in recent months due to domoic acid poisoning, caused by a neurotoxin from algae.  (Sam Goldman / Noozhawk photo)

After a couple months of frightening die-offs, the number of domoic acid poisonings of local marine mammals and coastal birds is subsiding, wildlife experts say.

Starting in April, pelicans, loons, sea lions and other species in the Ventura and Santa Barbara counties suffered from domoic acid poisoning, caused by a neurotoxin generated by algae.

Since Jan. 1, 80 pelicans have gone through the Santa Barbara Wildlife Care Network, said the organization’s director of animal care, Julia Parker. Of those, 48 died or had to be put to sleep.

The sicknesses were exacerbated by pelicans’ breeding this year, which meant juveniles as well as adults were turning up dead or emaciated.

Loons, another type of aquatic bird, were hugely affected as well, she said, with hundreds discovered dead along local coasts.

The Wildlife Care Network is not equipped to rehabilitate marine animals, like sea lions, though that species also suffered, Parker said.

The event appears to be tapering off, however. Whereas May saw 52 pelicans taken in for help, June has had 3 so far, Parker said.

Earlier this week, the Wildlife Care Network released six pelicans back into the wild near western Goleta’s Bacara Resort & Spa, with more to be released soon.

Parker said the proliferation of domoic acid isn’t a rare occurrence — in fact, it happens a few times per year — but noted that this time of year is unusual. 

An algal bloom in late 2015 caused the temporary closure of commercial rock and Dungeness crab fisheries in San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara counties due to increased domoic acid in the animals.

Crab fishing around the Channel Islands remained closed into 2016 before the crustaceans were deemed safe to harvest again.

Fish and other critters that eat the algae typically don’t consume enough of the neurotoxin to be notably affected. But when other animals eat the fish and the poison accumulates up the food chain, its effects are compounded.

The Wildlife Care Network encourages people who see an animal that appears hurt or sick to call its organization at 805.681.1080.

Noozhawk staff writer Sam Goldman can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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