Bloomin’ Awful

Thanks to climate change, these toxic algae keep spreading.

Bears feeding on a fin whale carcass in Larson Bay, Alaska
Credit: Photo: NOAA

The Pacific saw the biggest toxic algal bloom on record last year, from the Aleutian Islands to the Bering Sea. And it was a nightmare for life in the Pacific, closing fisheries, sending countless sea lions to rehab, and killing at least 30 whales (here, a group of grizzlies feasted on the carcass of a fin whale in Larson Bay, Alaska, last summer). In 2016, the damage continues: Last month, thousands of birds mysteriously washed up on the shores of Prince William Sound.

Researchers know that the algal sludge contains heavy doses of domoic acid and saxitoxin, neurotoxins that are deadly to marine mammals in high doses. Now, a new study from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration finds that the bloom of algae is headed as far north as the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas, its growth spurred by warming ocean temperatures, melting sea ice, and sunlight.

“The environment is changing very rapidly in Alaska,” says Kathi Lefebvre, a NOAA Fisheries research scientist. “These ecosystems have developed over millions of years, so the chances they’re going to be changed for the better overall are slim.”

This article was originally published on onEarth, which is no longer in publication. onEarth was founded in 1979 as the Amicus Journal, an independent magazine of thought and opinion on the environment. All opinions expressed are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the policies or positions of NRDC. This article is available for online republication by news media outlets or nonprofits under these conditions: The writer(s) must be credited with a byline; you must note prominently that the article was originally published by and link to the original; the article cannot be edited (beyond simple things such grammar); you can’t resell the article in any form or grant republishing rights to other outlets; you can’t republish our material wholesale or automatically—you need to select articles individually; you can’t republish the photos or graphics on our site without specific permission; you should drop us a note to let us know when you’ve used one of our articles.

Related Stories