Marine mammals statewide becoming infected with brain-rotting to - KSBY.com | San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara Area News

Marine mammals statewide becoming infected with brain-rotting toxin

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A high number of marine mammals in California are falling victim to a brain-rotting toxin called domoic acid toxicity. While it's mainly affecting the southern part of the state, northern rescue centers are preparing for a potential outbreak.  

"What you often see is a confused disoriented behavior," said Diana Kramer, manager at the Marine Mammal Rescue Center in Morro Bay. 

The sea lions will display lethargic or odd behavior. This is caused by sea lions consuming fish or muscles that have been eating toxic algae. In large concentrations, the neurotoxins can destroy the brain and kill the animal.

Since March, there have been two confirmed cases and three questionable cases in San Luis Obispo County, with those rescues happening in Oceano and Pismo Beach.

In Santa Barbara County, rescue centers are reporting hundreds of cases. With this outbreak potentially spreading, the Marine Mammal Center in Morro Bay is stocking up on medicine and fluids. 

"We don't know what to expect, but we are ready if we need to take in more patients," said Kramer. 

Scientists don't know where the algae burst is happening, but the heavy rains this year combined with warmer ocean temperatures might explain why this outbreak is becoming worse.

"This is really important not only for seals and sea lions but for us as well, because domoic acid is a toxin that can affect people as well that eat these contaminated shell fish or fish," said Kramer. 

No cases have been reported in humans this year and before sea food goes to the market, it is thoroughly tested for safety. However, scientists will be keeping a close eye on what's happening with these mammals to monitor how else it will affect the marine food chain.

If you see a sea lion displaying odd behavior, don't approach the animal and call the Marine Mammal rescue line at 415-289-SEAL.

The Morro Bay Marine Mammal Rescue center is also seeking donations to help supply food and medicine to the animals that come through the rescue centers. To learn how to help click here. 

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