‘Bizarre creature’ turned 50 miles of California coast into graveyard in summer 2011 — Gov’t Biologist: Die-off like this never seen here — “Abalone massacre… carcasses of urchins, starfish, other mollusks” — Experts find “alterations in 30 genes, some unknown to science” — “Suddenly proliferating… killing wildlife” (PHOTO)

Monday, May 12, 2014
By Paul Martin

May 12th, 2014

San Francisco Chronicle, May 9, 2014 (emphasis added): Abalone massacre pinned on microscopic coastal killer […] in 2011 [it] turned the pristine coastal waters into a graveyard, with the rotting carcasses of red abalone, sea urchins, starfish and other mollusks strewn along the shoreline from Bodega Bay and Fort Ross to Anchor Bay [a 50 mile stretch]. A team of scientists [blamed the] carnage on a mysterious poison-producing micro-organism known as Gonyaulax spinifera, a species of phytoplankton virtually unheard of in this part of the world. Laura Rogers-Bennett, the senior environmental scientist for the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, said the creature is as bizarre as it is deadly. […] The conundrum, Rogers-Bennett said, is that the blooms aren’t always toxic [and] are mostly beneficial, she said. […] previously unknown blooms of toxic algae are suddenly proliferating along the California coast, killing wildlife and […] have recently been bigger and have occurred more frequently than before. […] The scientists found [the abalone had] alterations in 30 genes, some of them unknown to science, and determined their function was to detoxify the body […]

UC Davis, April 16, 2014: In August 2011, thousands of dead red abalone washed up on the beaches of Sonoma County in Northern California. At the time, the cause was unknown […] “Parts of the genome were significantly different than what you’d expect by chance,” said Rogers-Bennett […] When they investigated those outliers, they found that their function was to aid in detoxification.

Ian Taniguchi, California Dept. of Fish & Game senior biologist: The deadliest red tide for state abalone in at least three decades.

Taniguchi: “Red tides happen every year, but having a large, significant die-off due to one is very rare […] Along the Sonoma County coastline, we’ve never seen it.”

Matt Mattison, 28-year abalone diver: [He] was stunned […] “Like going up to an old growth forest and then coming back and it’s been clear cut […] I have never seen anything like this.”

Bill Mashek, 30-year abalone diver: He was taken aback after diving […] “I wasn’t ready for what I saw. […] I have just never seen anything like that before.”

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