‘Bizarre creature’ turned 50 miles of California coast into graveyard

Gov’t Biologist: Die-off like this never seen here — “Abalone massacre… carcasses of urchins, starfish, other mollusks” — Experts find “alterations in 30 genes, some unknown to science” — “Suddenly proliferating… killing wildlife”


San Francisco Chronicle, May 9, 2014 (emphasis added): Abalone massacre pinned on microscopic coastal killer […] in 2011 [it] turned the pristine coastal waters into a graveyard, with the rotting carcasses of red abalone, sea urchins, starfish and other mollusks strewn along the shoreline from Bodega Bay and Fort Ross to Anchor Bay [a 50 mile stretch]. A team of scientists [blamed the] carnage on a mysterious poison-producing micro-organism known as Gonyaulax spinifera, a species of phytoplankton virtually unheard of in this part of the world. Laura Rogers-Bennett, the senior environmental scientist for the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, said the creature is as bizarre as it is deadly. […] The conundrum, Rogers-Bennett said, is that the blooms aren’t always toxic [and] are mostly beneficial, she said. […]previously unknown blooms of toxic algae are suddenly proliferating along the California coast, killing wildlife and […] have recently been bigger and have occurred more frequently than before. […] The scientists found [the abalone had] alterations in 30 genes, some of them unknown to science, and determined their function was to detoxify the body […]

UC Davis, April 16, 2014: In August 2011, thousands of dead red abalone washed up on the beaches of Sonoma County in Northern California. At the time, the cause was unknown […] “Parts of the genome were significantly different than what you’d expect by chance,” said Rogers-Bennett […] When they investigated those outliers, they found that their function was to aid in detoxification.

Ian Taniguchi, California Dept. of Fish & Game senior biologist: The deadliest red tide for state abalone in at least three decades.

Taniguchi: “Red tides happen every year, but having a large, significant die-off due to one is very rare […] Along the Sonoma County coastline, we’ve never seen it.”

Matt Mattison, 28-year abalone diver: [He] was stunned […] “Like going up to an old growth forest and then coming back and it’s been clear cut […] I have never seen anything like this.”

Bill Mashek, 30-year abalone diver: He was taken aback after diving […] “I wasn’t ready for what I saw. […] I have just never seen anything like that before.”

From Dec. 2013: “Weird things” happening on California coast: Previously unknown toxic algae blooms proliferating — TV: Mystery strandings of large squid covered miles and experts baffled… “essentially killing themselves, it’s just really weird” (VIDEO)

San Francisco Chronicle, Dec. 9, 2013: A mysterious pathogen is wiping out starfish along the Pacific coast […] [and it] isn’t the only weird thing to happen of late along the California coast. Marine scientists have been trying to find out why previously unknown blooms of toxic algae are suddenly proliferating along the coast. The mysterious blooms, including deadly red tides, have been bigger, occurred more frequently and killed more wildlife than in the past. Last year at about this time, legions of big predatory Humboldt squid gathered along the Northern California coast and stranded themselves on Santa Cruz beaches, far north of their normal habitat.

Press Democrat, Dec. 5, 2013: An article in Nature magazine in 2010 noted that the arrival of Humboldt squid is considered a sign “of a system in trouble.”

Here’s a local news report on the squid strandings from last December: A mysterious invasion on California beaches […] they washed up all of a sudden on a 12 mile stretch of beach. […] Thousands of Humboldt squid […] “You just see them essentially killing themselves, and it’s just really weird to see it,” said graduate student Hannah Rosen of Stanford University’s Hopkins Marine Station. […] Rosen said some people tried to put the squid back in the water, but the deep water creatures swam back to shore. […] The animals had full stomachs […] To be honest reasearchers have no idea why this is happening but they think its from ingesting toxic algae […] This is the third stranding in 6 weeks.

Press Democrat, Dec. 5, 2013: [There’s an] unprecedented mass of oxygen-poor water off the Sonoma Coast, a phenomenon that could harm the region’s prized Dungeness crab and other marine life. […] Oxygen-poor water is common in deep water of the open ocean, but until this year had never been documented over the continental shelf close to the Sonoma coast, [John Largier, an oceanographer at the UC Davis research facility on Bodega Head] said. […] Largier said he is “fairly confident” that west coast hypoxia is a consequence of climate change, but the presumed connection is complex. […] The vast majority of more than 400 dead zones documented around the world in a 2008 report are of a entirely different nature, created by [pollutants like] fertilizer-laden runoff from rivers and burning of fossil fuels. […] Largier discounted that factor on the North Coast […]


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