Complexity of domoic acid-related sea lion strandings in Monterey Bay, California: Foraging patterns, climate events, and toxic blooms

Sibel Bargu, Mary Silver, Tracey Goldstein, Kathryn Roberts, Frances Gulland

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

30 Scopus citations


The neurotoxin domoic acid (DA) produced by the diatoms Pseudo-nitzschia has been responsible for deaths of marine mammals and birds in Monterey Bay, California, USA. In this study we examined links between DA-related strandings of the seasonally migratory California sea lion Zalophus californianus and regional occurrences of DA-producing diatoms using a decade-long time series. Results suggest a more complex pattern of stranding than anticipated, one not related simply to regional abundance of the toxin producers. Stranding patterns of sea lions exhibiting signs of acute DA toxicosis may be best explained by multiple causative factors including timing of toxic blooms with respect to the sea lion breeding cycle, adequacy of sea lion prey during the breeding season, as well as the geographic range of this pinniped outside of the breeding season. Three DA-related stranding events occurred in Monterey Bay in 1998, 2000 and 2007, when toxic DA blooms were present in the Bay and the California coast was experiencing El Niño/Southern Oscillation conditions. Foraging centers near the breeding site likely provided inadequate food for individuals, leading to northerly movement of these highly mobile predators to other geographic sites resulting in exposure to toxic DA-producing blooms. High toxic Pseudo-nitzschia and DA concentrations did not, however, result in DA-related stranding events in 2002, 2003 and 2004, when weaker than normal upwelling events were present in the Bay. Relative productivity of central versus southern California with respect to the breeding season thus appears to strongly influence the frequency of DA-related strand- ings in Monterey Bay, California.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)213-222
Number of pages10
JournalMarine Ecology Progress Series
StatePublished - 2010


  • Animal stranding
  • California sea lion
  • Domoic acid
  • ENSO
  • Foraging behavior
  • Harmful algal blooms
  • Monterey Bay
  • Pseudo-nitzschia

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Aquatic Science
  • Ecology
  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics


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