Warmer Oceans Increase Likelihood Of Toxic Shellfish, Study Finds
Thanks for the poison lobster, El Niño.
By Ryan Grenoble
01/11/2017 03:33 pm ET
The neurotoxin domoic acid inspired Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Birds” after hundreds of sooty shearwaters ingested the poison in the summer of 1961 and, well, lost their minds.
The crazed birds likely consumed domoic acid via small fish like anchovies and sardines.
It also tends to collect in shellfish, like clams, crabs and lobsters. And, according to a study published Tuesday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, it may become more prevalent as oceans warm, threatening birds and humans alike.
Researchers at Oregon State University, the University of Oregon, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife studied the prevalence of domoic acid over the past 20 years in the Pacific Northwest, and found it strongly correlated with water temperatures that are warmer than normal.
For now, warmer waters typically stem from events like El Niño and a decades-long climate cycle called “Pacific decadal oscillation,” the study found. It isn’t yet clear how climate change, which also warms the oceans, might affect the toxin’s prevalence.
“When water’s unusually warm off our coast, it’s because the circulation and patterns in the atmosphere has changed, bringing warm water from elsewhere — and this is happening at the same time that we also see high domoic acid in shellfish,” Morgaine McKibben, a doctoral student at Oregon State and the study’s lead author, told E&E News.