• California sea lion;
  • harmful algal blooms;
  • domoic acid;
  • Pseudo-nitzschia;
  • acute toxicity;
  • chronic neurologic;
  • Monterey Bay;
  • California


Blooms of the toxin-producing diatom Pseudo-nitzschia commonly occur in Monterey Bay, California, resulting in sea lion mortality events. The links between strandings of California sea lions suffering from domoic acid (DA) toxicity, toxic cell numbers, and their associated DA concentration in Monterey Bay and in sea lion feces were examined from 2004 to 2007. While Pseudo-nitzschia toxic cells and DA concentrations were detectable in the water column most of the time, they were often at low levels. A total of 82 California sea lions were found stranded in the Bay between 2004 and 2007 with acute or chronic signs associated with DA poisoning. The highest number with detectable DA in feces occurred in April 2007 and corresponded with the presence of a highly toxic bloom in the Bay. Higher DA levels occurred in feces from sea lions stranding with acute toxicosis and lower concentrations in feces of sea lions exhibiting signs of chronic DA poisoning or not exhibiting any neurologic signs. Results indicated that sea lions are likely exposed to varying levels of DA through their prey throughout the year, often at sublethal doses that may contribute to a continued increase in the development of chronic neurologic sequelae.