Climate bedwetting has gone positively Hitchcockian!
One morning in the summer of 1961, hundreds of crazed birds attacked the seaside town of Capitola, California. The birds “cried like babies” as they dove into street lamps, crashed through glass windows, and attacked people on the ground. Most of the birds were sooty shearwaters, a normally non-aggressive species that feeds on small fish and comes ashore only to breed. This incident fascinated Alfred Hitchcock, who frequently vacationed in nearby Santa Cruz. He included newspaper clippings about the Capitola attack in his studio proposal for THE BIRDS, which appeared in cinemas two years later. The agent responsible for the attack is now widely thought to have been domoic acid.
BUT BEFORE FREAKING OUT… while domoic acid poisoning may be a concern during El Nino events, shellfish are routinely tested for domoic acid levels.
The abstract and two media releases are below:
Warmer West Coast ocean conditions linked to increased risk of toxic shellfish
Oregon State University and NOAA provide new tools to predict harmful algal blooms off the West Coast
Hazardous levels of domoic acid, a natural toxin that accumulates in shellfish, have been linked to warmer ocean conditions in waters off Oregon and Washington for the first time by a NOAA-supported research team led by Oregon State University scientists.
Domoic acid, produced by certain types of marine algae, can accumulate in shellfish, fish and other marine animals. Consuming enough of the toxin can be harmful or even fatal. Public health agencies and seafood managers closely monitor toxin levels and impose harvest closures where necessary to ensure that seafood remains safe to eat. NOAA is supporting research and new tools to help seafood industry managers stay ahead of harmful algae events that are increasing in frequency, intensity and scope.
“We describe a completely new method to understanding and predicting toxic outbreaks on a large scale, linking domoic acid concentrations in shellfish to ocean conditions caused by warm water phases of natural climate event cycles like Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO) and El Nino,” said Morgaine McKibben from Oregon State University, the lead author of the newly published, NOAA-supported research findings in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Using extensive time series of biological, chemical, and physical data, this study also created a climate-based risk analysis model which predicts where and when domoic acid in shellfish will likely exceed regulatory thresholds. The researchers will make this model freely available to support fisheries management decisions in Oregon, Washington and California.
“Commercial and recreational shellfish fisheries along the West Coast are a multi-million dollar industry,” said NOAA harmful algal bloom program manager Marc Suddleson. “Improving our ability to accurately predict algal toxin levels in shellfish supports timely and targeted fishery closures or openings, essential to avoiding economic disruption and safeguarding public health.”
In 2015, domoic acid-related closures led to a decline in value of nearly $100 million for the West Coast Dungeness crab fishery according to the Fisheries of the U.S. Report 2015.
“This study will help us determine if the increased climate-ocean variability we expect will lead to more widespread outbreaks like the West Coast-wide domoic acid event of 2015-16,” said co-author Bill Peterson, NOAA Fisheries. “If so, we’ll likely see increased domoic acid effects throughout the ocean food web.” For example, domoic acid events have been linked to mass deaths of marine mammals, like sea lions, sea otters, dolphins and whales.
“Advance warning of when domoic acid levels are likely to exceed our public health thresholds in shellfish is extremely helpful,” said Matt Hunter co-author of the paper with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. “Agencies like mine can use this model to anticipate domoic acid risks and prepare for periods of more intensive monitoring and testing, helping to better inform our decisions and ensure the safety of harvested crab and shellfish.”
Findings reported by McKibben and her co-authors resulted from their involvement in the NOAA funded Monitoring Oregon Coastal Harmful Algae project (2007-2012). This research was conducted by scientists with NOAA, the University of Oregon, Oregon State University, and the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, with funding from NOAA’s National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science Monitoring and Event Response for Harmful Algal Blooms (MERHAB) Research Program.
El Niño, Pacific Decadal Oscillation implicated in domoic acid shellfish toxicity
OREGON STATE UNIVERSITY
CORVALLIS, Ore. – Researchers today reported in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences a strong correlation between toxic levels of domoic acid in shellfish and the warm-water ocean conditions orchestrated by two powerful forces – El Niño events and the Pacific Decadal Oscillation.
Using a combination of time-series data spanning two decades, the scientists not only showed a clear link between domoic acid and these larger climatic phenomena, but also developed a new model to predict with some accuracy the timing of domoic acid risks in the Pacific Northwest.
The model is based on interpreting the status of the “Oceanic Niño Index” and the Pacific Decadal Oscillation – both of which are measures of climate, ocean water movement, currents and temperature. It’s designed to help coastal resource managers more effectively monitor this issue and protect public health.
The findings were made by researchers from Oregon State University, the University of Oregon, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA), and the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. The work was primarily supported by NOAA.
Researchers also pointed out that the findings are particularly timely, given the potential for greater domoic acid outbreak occurrences as oceans continue to warm due to climate change.
Domoic acid, a potent neurotoxin produced by specific types of phytoplankton and ingested by shellfish, can cause serious health effects in humans and some other animals. In recent years, dangerous levels of these toxins have led to the repeated closure of crab and shellfish harvesting in the Pacific Northwest and elsewhere. The problem threatens public health, marine wildlife and can cost millions for coastal economies. Until now, its connection to larger climatic forces has been suspected, but not confirmed.
“In the natural world there are always variations, and it’s been difficult to connect a specific event to larger forces that operate over periods of years and decades,” said Angelicque White, an associate professor and research team leader in the OSU College of Earth, Oceanic and Atmospheric Sciences.
“To do so, long observational time-series are crucial. With NOAA’s commitment to sponsored coastal ocean research and monitoring, along with state support for monitoring shellfish toxins, we’ve finally been able to tease out short term variability from natural climate forcing.”
Beyond problems with domoic acid levels, White said, this correlation also appears to mirror problems with green crabs, an invasive species of significant concern in the Pacific Northwest. These same warm climate phases lead to increased numbers of green crabs in Oregon waters, where they compete with native Dungeness crabs. The conditions also deliver communities of lipid-poor “copepods” – types of small crustaceans that float with currents – from the south, that are associated with reduced salmon runs.
The new study shows that oscillations to positive, or warm-favorable conditions in natural climate cycles can reduce the strength of the south-flowing California Current. This allows more movement northwards of both warmer waters and higher levels of toxic plankton, and also brings that toxic mix closer to shore where it can infiltrate shellfish.
“Part of the concern is that a large influx of the plankton that produce domoic acid can have long-term impacts,” said Morgaine McKibben, an OSU doctoral student and lead author on the study.
“For example, razor clams are filter-feeders that bioaccumulate this toxin in their muscles, so they take much longer to flush it out than other shellfish. The higher the toxin levels, the longer it takes for razor clams to be safe to eat again, perhaps up to a year after warm ocean conditions have subsided.”
Domoic acid is produced by the diatom genus Pseudo-nitzschia, and enters the marine food web when toxic blooms of these micro-algae are ingested by animals such as anchovies and shellfish. Referred to as “amnesic shellfish poisoning,” human symptoms can range from gastrointestinal disturbance to seizures, memory loss or, rarely, death. It was only first identified as a public health threat in 1987, and has been monitored on the U.S. West Coast since 1991.
Domoic acid events have been linked to mass deaths of marine mammals, like sea lions, sea otters, dolphins and whales. And closures of Pacific Northwest beaches to shellfish harvests, such as those that occurred in 2003, 2015 and 2016, can result in large economic impacts to coastal towns and tourism. In 2015, domoic-acid related closures led to a decline in value of nearly $100 million for the West Coast Dungeness crab fishery, according to the Fisheries of the U.S. Report 2015.
“Advance warning of when domoic acid levels are likely to exceed our public health thresholds in shellfish is extremely helpful,” said Matt Hunter, co-author of the study with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. “Agencies like mine can use this model to anticipate domoic acid risks and prepare for periods of more intensive monitoring and testing, helping to better inform our decisions and ensure the safety of harvested crab and shellfish.”