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Toxic algae bloom sickens sea lions, dolphins

Published 5/1/2009 on Daily News Los Angeles

A toxic algae bloom is causing an increased number of sea lions and dolphins to get sick and become stranded on Southland beaches, authorities said today.

"In the past weeks, approximately 20 marine mammals have been rescued … that are suspected to be suffering from the toxin," said Peter Wallerstein of Marine Animal Rescue.

"Many of the sea lions are currently being treated at various local marine mammal rehabilitation facilities," he said.

The problem is believed related to a toxic algae bloom that produces a biotoxin known as domoic acid, which accumulates in anchovies and sardines that feed on the algae, Wallerstein said. The contaminated anchovies and sardines are then consumed by sea lions, elephant seals, dolphins and sea birds, that become ill, he said.

Wallerstein reminded the public that marine mammals are considered "wild animals" and can be very dangerous. Also, approaching the animals could be a violation of the Marine Mammal Protection Act.

People should stay at least 50 feet away, and not "touch, pour water on or disturb the animals in any way," Wallerstein said. Violators could be fined up to $10,000 and face a year in prison.

Many beaches are posted with "Marine Mammal: Do Not Disturb" signs. And since it is illegal to have dogs on the beach, Wallerstein warned people to keep canines away from beached marine mammals.

Since Jan. 1, 140 marine mammals have been rescued in the county by Marine Animal Rescue, Wallerstein said.

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