In late April and early May, there was a massive algae bloom off the southern coast of California that produced something called domoic acid. Domoic acid is a natural neurotoxin that causes seizures and deaths in animals. During the almost two week long algae bloom, the Wetlands and Wildlife Care Center in Huntington Beach estimated that thousands of birds were affected by domoic acid.
Assistant wildlife director Lisa Birkle of the center said that they took in around 166 birds that were either sick or dying. She also reported that at the time, it was impossible for them to collect all the birds that were reported sick. Of all the birds taken in by the center, only about 14 lived.
So, it was with triumph that on Thursday that nine California brown pelicans were returned to the sea after they recovered from the effects of domoic acid in what is being described as the worst such incident on record.
Those few birds are the the bulk of the survivors amongst what was estimated to be thousands of sea birds that were killed in late April and early May. Also sickened and killed by the algae bloom were sea lions, and few dolphins and whales along the Southern California coast.
Animal care workers from the Wetlands and Wildlife Care Center in Huntington Beach on Thursday turned the pelicans loose on the beach at Big Corona. The pelicans waddled from their cages and made their way to the waterline, where they stood for a few minutes before venturing into the ocean en masse.
"It's just wonderful that these are the fortunate ones that made it," said Debbie McGuire, wildlife director at the care center.
Early in May, researchers from the Caron Lab at the University of Southern California said that testing showed that the domoic acid levels during the week of April 26 were the highest ever recorded. They do have a solid theory just yet as to why the plankton have been producing so much of toxin, but they believe, and are investigating whether, it's connected to an excess of nutrients in the water.