Found New Article!

           Listen up friends. My Marine Life professor showed our class this article today in class–it reviews and adds to the study that I talked about in the post before last ( This article was written four months ago by Tim Stephens of the University of California at Santa Cruz, and adds some interesting new perspectives on the discoveries found in the PLOS One study. Microcystis is becoming a bigger and bigger problem: “This study is significant because it is the first to establish a connection between freshwater contamination by microcystin and marine mammal mortality. This land-to-sea link has important implications for marine life and human health,” says Stephens.
           The real problem is that this poisonous algae is causing many deaths in sea otters. Co-author Melissa Miller confirms this suspicion, because “in 2007, Miller began seeing dead and dying sea otters…with evidence of acute liver failure.” And what exactly made all of these innocent sea otters living on Monterey die? Their tissue tested positive for microcystin–the deadly gunk.
          The algae has become not just a problem for sea otters, but for small aquatic animals, dogs that drink the runoff water, and humans. It is crucial that we find a way to get rid of the algae and prevent more deaths and illnesses from occurring.


Stephens, Tim. “Sea Otter Deaths Linked to Toxin from Freshwater Bacteria.” – UC Santa Cruz. N.p., 10 Sept. 2010. Web. 06 Nov. 2012. <;.

Published December 29, 2010.


More Info on Microcystis

        Hi friends. So I did more research on these algal blooms, and I found an article about it from last year, meaning that this isn’t as new of a dilemma as I had originally thought. I found this article on the Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment website, and it is super clear and informative. Please, take a few minutes to check out the article and read up on microcystis blooms, that way we are all on the same page regarding exactly what this threatening algae is. Check it out! (

“Microcystis: Toxic Blue-Green Algae.” Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment, Feb. 2009. Web. 5 Nov. 2012. <;.

Published October 10, 2010.

Evidence for a Novel Marine Harmful Algal Bloom: Cyanotoxin (Microcystin) Transfer from Land to Sea Otters

         After six months of no mention of the danger of the biotoxins that are produced by microcystis algae, I have stumbled across a study that confirms all of our suspicions. With the hard work of 12 scientists coming from all over California, for example the Marine Wildlife Veterinary Care and Research Center, the Western Ecological Research Center, and the California Department of Public Health.
Not only did these scientists confirm that microcystin is a harmful type of algae, they also found that it is having a seriously negative effect on sea otters. This study confirms “deaths of marine mammals from microcystin intoxication.” And there weren’t just one or two otters killed by this poisonous algae, but 21! The otters got the algae into their system through a variety of ways, but the most important one is through eating clams, mussels and oysters. How did eating what sea otters normally eat cause them to get this suffocating bacteria in their system? Their food had it in them, which was then transferred to the otters! This shows a serious problem with the situation because it means that all levels of the food chain are affected by the algae. Biomagnification has occured, “suggesting a potentially serious environmental and public health threat that extends from the lowest trophic levels of nutrient-impaired freshwater habitat to apex marine predators.” This study is the first real confirmation of the harmful algal bloom in the Pacific coastal environment, and it is something that we all need to be aware of.


My professor assigned us “Changes in a California Estuary: A Profile of Elkhorn Slough” for homework this weekend. And guess what I found?! More information about biomagnification, which is what is happening with this algae in the sea otters! There is an entire section of a chapter dedicated to it, and this is the conclusion: “in addition to having a wide range of acute or severe short-term impacts, such as mortality, slough contaminants can cause chronic effects that occur over longer periods. These maybe be expressed as sublethal impacts on reproduction, growth, behavior, or other physiological functions.” This just reiterates how important it is to get rid of the algae, because it is having such an awful effect on these poor sea creatures!

Miller, Melissa A., Raphael M. Kudela, Abdu Mekebri, Dave Crane, Stori C. Oates, and Timothy Tinker. “Evidence for a Novel Marine Harmful Algal Bloom: Cyanotoxin (Microcystin) Transfer from Land to Sea Otters.” PLOS One (2010): n. pag. Open Access. Web. 5 Nov. 2012.

Caffrey, Jane M. Changes in a California Estuary: A Profile of Elkhorn Slough. Moss Landing, CA: Elkhorn Slough Foundation, 2002. Print.

Published August 4, 2010.


        Attention readers! I just came across a post on the California Department of Water Resources website ( alerting us of a serious problem that scientists have recently become aware of. Apparently, there is an algae called Microcystis that can pose a real threat to wildlife. It occurs naturally and forms dense blooms on the surface of the water, and these mats can be dangerous for anyone or anything in the water. People swimming in areas of dense Microcystis blooms have “experience irritation such as skin rashes, burns and blistering of the mouth” (Special Studies Section-Microcystic). Ingestion or inhalation of this algae can cause even worse symptoms, for example vomiting, diarrhea, pneumonia, and liver damage in humans and animals. Lucky, no human deaths have been reported yet, however microcystis has been found fatal to many animals. It is incredibly important that we keep animals away from this toxic algae, especially the poor sea otters! As soon as I hear more information about the algae and what can be done to prevent/remove it, I will update everyone through this blog. Keep your fingers crossed!






“Special Studies Section: Microcystis.” Special Studies Section. CA Department of Water Resources, n.d. Web. 05 Nov. 2012. <>.

Published March 29, 2010.

Sea Otter? What’s That?

         Hi everyone! Before getting into the really interesting but complicated details of sea otters, it is important that we all have a basic understanding of the species. Where do they live, what do they eat, and what kind of relationship do they have with humans? Read on to find out!

Physical Characteristics: Sea otters have small, round heads with small eyes that are good for seeing in and out of water. They are typically a chestnut brown, but sometimes they have black, white, or gray streaks in their fur. They tend to be about four feet long, which includes their 12-inch tails. Baby sea otters range in weight from three to five pounds, and grow to be anywhere between 50 and 70 pounds. Males are typically larger than females. They have the thickest fur of all mammals, and their front paws are shaped like mittens. Like cat claws, they have claws that can be pulled back into their paws. Their hind feet are webbed, helping the sea otter swim faster.

Eating: Sea otters place their food on their stomach, like a makeshift table. In order to get to the flesh inside of the hard shells that they bring up from the bottom of the ocean, they smash a rock into the shell until it cracks open. They most often eat clams, snails, abalone, crabs, starfish, mussels, scallops, squid, and a collection of many other aquatic creatures.

Habitat: Today, sea otters exist only in the Kuril Islands, Kamchatka, the Commander Islands, the Aleutian Islands, British Colombia, Vancouver Island, and Point Sur, California. They no longer live off the coast of Mexico, the Pribilof Islands, and Hokkaido. This is because a long time ago too many people killed the sea otters and used the valuable thick sea otter fur for trading.

Sea otters are phenomenal creatures, and it is important to understand how much they will be missed if they ever do become extinct. It is in our hands to protect the fragile lives of these beautiful and unique animals and to prevent/stop any human activities that are harming them.

visit this site to learn more:


“Basic Facts about Sea Otters.” Sea Otter: Basic Facts. Defenders of Wildlife, n.d. Web. 05 Nov. 2012. <>.

Published Feb. 4, 2010.

Hello All!

           My name is Melinda McCarthy and I am a Environmental Science major at the University of California at Santa Cruz. I am 19 years old, and I have made a pledge to myself to spend my life saving the environment and the animals that live in it. I have recently taken a particular liking to sea otters…they are so cute and fun to watch! However, they are an endangered species; therefore, it is critical that we do our best to protect them the best that we can by keeping them safe. In honor of the couple hundred sea otters that are still alive worldwide, I have decided to dedicate this blog to updating any and all readers about sea otters in general, current events and studies regarding sea otters, and suggestions for how we can prevent them from going extinct. Enjoy!


Published Jan. 17, 2010.