Huge Toxic Algae Bloom Bigger Than Feared in May

It's 40 miles wide and 650 feet deep
By Elizabeth Armstrong Moore,  Newser Staff
Posted Aug 5, 2015 8:00 AM CDT
Huge Toxic Algae Bloom Bigger Than Feared in May
The algae pseudo-nitzchia, which produces the toxic domoic acid, is seen from an algae bloom sample that NOAA collected during its survey this summer on the West Coast.   (NOAA Fisheries via AP)

A massive toxic algae bloom first detected in May is denser, deeper, and more widespread than scientists feared as recently as a few weeks ago, report surveyors aboard a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration research vessel. As many as 40 miles wide and 650 feet deep, it stretches at least as far as California to Alaska and is shutting down various fisheries to prevent endangering humans. The main suspect, a huge stretch of unusually warm water in the northeast Pacific Ocean called "the blob," could be causing the bloom, which is brownish in color. "It's been incredibly thick, almost all the same organism," a UC Santa Cruz professor of ocean sciences tells the AP. "Looks like a layer of hay."

Surveyors have just completed their first leg, mainly off the coast of California, and are continuing to monitor the ocean between Newport, Ore., and Seattle before reaching Vancouver Island in early September. Meanwhile, another ship is already off the coast of Alaska taking samples, which include high concentrations of the neurotoxin domoic acid, caused by one type of algae called Pseudo-nitzschia. While algae blooms tend to disappear after a few weeks, this one is continuing to wax and wane months after its discovery. An oceanographer in Seattle says it's the worst she's seen in the 20 years she's spent studying them. Sea lions are getting sick, pelicans are exposed, and with the Pacific Ocean's coming El Nino warming, the bloom may be about to grow larger still. (Check out the size of this bloom off the coast of Louisiana.)

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