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ShortCut: Domoic Acid and Sea Lions

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ShortCut: Domoic Acid and Sea Lions

In this article series named ShortCut, I share some interesting and intriguing information elucidating various subjects from the books I have read by making quotes. In this particular article, I wanted to write about how sea lions got hit by the detrimental effects of domoic acid in 1998, which notoriously poisoned people on the Prince Edward Island even before causing sudden sea lion deaths, due to El Niño.

When El Niño struck, it stimulates a change in the number of plankton by increasing the average temperature in Monterey and causing rains every day for the first two weeks resulting in three inches precipitation - thirty times the average. More than the temperature, the rain was wreaking havoc with the plankton. Frances Gulland, who was one of the staff veterinarians at the Marine Mammal Center in Sausalito, thought that the rain had increased the agricultural runoff into the bay. Rich with fertilizer, the runoff provided massive amounts of nitrogen to fuel the plankton bloom caused the return of Pseudo-nitzschia secreting domoic acid.

"However, sea lions do not eat plankton. They do not have the manual dexterity to eat shellfish as sea otters do, which ruled out mussels as the source as in the Prince Edward Island outbreak. Sea lions eat fish, and they are not terribly picky about it. Gulland started with the most common fish at the scene of the crime - anchovies and sardines. Sure enough, their bellies were chock full of Pseudo-nitzschia, which, under the gaze of an electron microscope, looked like shards of glass. Weirdly, the domoic acid in the plankton was confined to the fish guts. Not that it mattered to the sea lions. They ate fish whole, taking a toxic dose of domoic acid in with their usual food(1)."

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Figure - 89.1

References

(1) Berns, Gregory. "Seizing Sea Lions." What It's Like To Be A Dog: And Other Adventures in Animal Neuroscience.. London: Oneworld Publications, 2018. 80. Print.

Figure - 89.1 https://mediaassets.ksby.com/cordillera-network/wp-content/uploads/sites/2/2019/06/14163524/California-Sea-Lion-Domoic-Acid-e1560555393389.jpg