Our planet is a very complex and wonderful thing, and despite its endless resilience, it is still quite fragile. A single factor like a parasitic species can totally overwhelm an ecosystem, going so far as to destroy it entirely. A team of researchers wanted to see what was killing off large mammals in Alaska, and they found something quite disturbing. According to the team of researchers, Alaska’s marine mammals are affected by toxic algae.
The algae spread
A team of researchers from the Wildlife Algal-toxin Research and Response Network for the West Coast looked at 905 different marine mammals belonging to 13 different species in order to figure out what was killing them off en masse. All of the samples were collected between 2004 and 2013.
Worryingly, the team found several very powerful toxins like domoic acid and saxitoxin that were found to be definitely coming from the harmful algae. However, the researchers don’t actually think that the toxins were in the marine mammals in sufficient enough amounts to be fatal.
As climate change is warming up the oceans’ waters, sea ice levels are dropping. This is very beneficial for the proliferation of this harmful algae bloom. Thus the algae has started spreading more and more to the north, reaching the Alaskan waters and wreaking havoc on the ecosystem.
Never before had the harmful algae reached so far away, with this being the first study to record these algal toxins so far north, from southern Alaska to the Arctic Ocean. Nor have the toxins been detected in so many marine mammals before.
The toxin’s effects
Despite the team not being able to determine whether the toxicity levels found in the marine mammals were high enough to be directly responsible for their deaths, it’s certain that they had a pretty strong health impact on the creatures.
Additionally, even though the levels of toxicity are far below those dangerous enough for seafood, other marine mammals that are commonly eaten throughout the area have been found with dangerously high levels in their systems, making them dangerous for human consumption.
Animals like seals and walruses are routinely eaten by the Alaskan folk, so they are at quite a significant risk. However, the more commonly eaten parts of the animals are the blubber and the muscles, which do pose a lower threat level.
The team is going to continue investigating the situation, hoping to find as much as they can about the potential algal bloom infestation as they can.
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