All Washed Up

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Science  20 Mar 2009:
Vol. 323, Issue 5921, pp. 1539
DOI: 10.1126/science.323.5921.1539a

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Toxic algal blooms, or red tides, caused by dinoflagellates pose a danger for humans and many other vertebrates. In November 2007, a late red tide of Akashiwo sanguinea in Monterey Bay caused a mass stranding and high mortality of winter visiting seabirds. Jessup et al. report that the birds' plumage had become coated in a sticky green froth exuded from the algae that contained surfactant mycosporinelike amino acids, which acted like a detergent to strip the feathers of their natural waterproofing oils. Consequently, the soaking birds, already weakened from migration, became hypothermic, and many died. If the surviving birds were cleaned as if they had been caught in an oil spill, then most made a full recovery. The algae seemed to have no other toxic activity, although inhaling aerosolized green scum apparently caused lung pathology. With the major shifts currently affecting the marine environment that are favoring other types of red tides, this kind of algal hazard is likely to become a more widespread occurrence. — CA

PLoS ONE 4, e4550 (2009).

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