Toxic algae blooms have caused an immense financial and ecological burden on populations near affected waterways. One recent sea lion attack showed even more of the unexpected dangers from the aquatic phenomenon.
According to reports, a boy was bitten by a sea lion twice, on his leg and backside, while swimming at a Del Mar, California, beach in July 2023.
“Next thing I know, it takes a big bite here, on my leg,” the victim told NBC News San Diego while pointing to his right knee.
He only suffered minor surface injuries from the attack after quickly escaping the sea lion. “We’ve been coming to this beach for over 20 years. I’ve never even seen a beached seal or sea lion here,” the boy’s father said.
The boy’s father and lifeguards noted that the sea lion was not healthy. They reported its lips were twitching, its eyes were closed, and its behavior was lethargic. Experts at SeaWorld believe the cause of the sea lion’s behavior and its seemingly unprovoked attack on the boy resulted from exposure to toxic algae blooms in the Pacific Ocean.
SeaWorld veterinarian Kelsey Herrick noted that predators, like dolphins and sea lions, are at risk of neurological complications because they eat the fish that eat the toxic algae. The organization was able to capture the sea lion and keep it under observation.
Harmful algae blooms occur when nutrients like nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium are washed into bodies of water from lawns, agricultural operations, or via animal waste. The growth-limiting nutrients feed the existing algae already in the water, causing it to release toxins.
Scientists predict that HABs are expected to increase with extreme weather events caused by the overheating of our planet, like hurricanes and severe floods. People can become ill when eating affected shellfish or experience worsening asthma symptoms if the toxins become airborne.
HABs cost the shellfish and tourism industry upward of $83 billion yearly from lost revenue, closed beaches, and lower catches. Sea lion bites may be another costly risk to add to the list.
“If this algae bloom is really causing animals to act erratically, we probably need to be a little bit more careful,” the boy’s father said.
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