Tools developed to predict risk of mass marine mammal strandings caused by HAB toxin

Posted January 26, 2024

SCCWRP and its partners have developed a set of tools for predicting the likelihood of marine mammals becoming stranded on Southern California beaches based on exposure to elevated levels of domoic acid, a toxin produced by a harmful algal bloom (HAB) known as Pseudo-nitzschia.

The predictive tools, described in a journal article published in December, are intended to provide environmental managers and marine mammal rescue centers with critical early warnings about anticipated mass strandings of sea lions and other animals as a result of domoic acid poisoning, such as an event last summer that sickened or killed hundreds of marine mammals.

The predictive tools leverage HABs monitoring data collected at ocean piers via California’s Harmful Algal Bloom Monitoring and Alert Program (HABMAP), plus data collected further offshore via rapid-response HABs monitoring efforts.

During major bloom events, marine mammal rescue centers – which are mostly volunteer-driven operations – struggle to keep up with sudden, dramatic spikes in marine mammal strandings on beaches. Generally, about 40%-60% of all stranded mammals that are rescued can recover if administered appropriate anti-seizure medications and/or moved from populated beaches to local rehabilitation centers.

More news related to: Eutrophication, Harmful Algal Blooms