FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
August 22, 2022
Contact: Reba Lean, Public Relations Manager
Nome, Alaska – A research vessel has alerted Norton Sound Health Corporation to more exceedingly high levels of a particular type of algae in the Bering Strait region. The vessel Norseman II reported algal blooms near Teller, Brevig Mission, Wales, Little Diomede, and Shishmaref and is encouraging caution over eating some seafoods from these areas.
On Thursday, August 18, the Norseman II vessel traveled near Wales to collect seawater samples. Closest to Wales, the samples indicated a notable density of concentration of the Alexandrium catenella alga at over 1,000 cells per liter. About 15 miles away to the south, the vessel detected high levels of concentration of the algae with 55,000 cells per liter.
On Friday, August 19, the same vessel traveled near the Diomede islands and collected a water sample with extremely high concentration of the algae, with over 100,000 cells per liter of seawater, while 1.5 miles from the islands.
On Saturday, August 20, the research team sampled about 20 miles outside of Shishmaref, where they found a concentration of over 20,000 cells per liter.
The Alexandrium catenella alga is a phytoplankton that can produce saxitoxins, which, if consumed, can cause paralytic shellfish poisoning (PSP). According to UAF Alaska Sea Grant, PSP can occur in people when they eat clams, crabs, and other seafood contaminated with saxitoxin. PSP affects the nervous system and blocks nerve function. If high concentrations of saxitoxin are eaten, breathing difficulties and paralysis occurs in humans, marine mammals, and seabirds.
Alaska Sea Grant also reports that consuming walrus intestine, stomach, and/or their contents in areas with known biotoxins likely has the same risk as consuming shellfish from those areas. People cannot see, smell, or taste algae toxins. Cooking or freezing these foods will not lessen the toxin’s effect.
The Norseman II has been collecting the water samples this summer and notifying nearby entities when levels of the algae should trigger an advisory to be cautious when consuming marine wildlife resources, such as clams, crabs, and tunicates, etc. It issued similar advisories over blooms near Gambell and Shishmaref in the past few weeks. The water samples have not yet been tested for the presence of saxitoxin. The research team will have the sampled tested when they can get back to the mainland.
Meanwhile, regional organizations including NSHC and Alaska Sea Grant are collecting regional samples of sea water and marine wildlife to test for saxitoxin presence. Samples will be sent out for laboratory testing, and NSHC will notify the region of the results. Up-to-date information will be accessible at NSHC Office of Environmental Health’s webpage at www.nortonsoundhealth.org/oeh.
If you feel sick from eating clams or other shellfish, contact your health care provider immediately.
If you see any marine wildlife, including walruses, acting in an unusual manner or dead in the Bering Strait region, please contact the following:
- S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) Marine Mammals Management: 1-800-362-5148
- Alaska Marine Mammal Stranding Network: (877) 925-7773
- UAF Alaska Sea Grant, Gay Sheffield: (907) 434-1149
- Kawerak, Subsistence, Brandon Ahmasuk: (907) 443-4265