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Algae Toxin Erases Sea Lion Memory, Hundreds Stranded Ashore

Update Date: Dec 16, 2015 09:51 AM EST

Domoic acid, a toxin produced by marine algae has disoriented sea lions so much that they have been washed ashore, say researchers at the University of California.

This solves the mystery of why so many sea lions keep getting stranded in the US west coast, according to the Guardian. They are reported to be eating crabs and small fish that are laced with the algal bloom.

The acid toxin impacts the hippocampus area, which is thought to be the hub of memory and emotions, making the sea lions suffer, as they completely lose the ability to navigate and find food, according to Yahoo News.

Scientists embarked on behavioral tests and MRI scans on 30 California sea lions. They were all found suffering at the Marine Mammal Center in Sausalito, north of San Francisco.

The results were published in the journal Science.

"In this study, we were able to correlate the extent of hippocampal damage to specific behavioural impairments relevant to the animals' survival in the wild. This is the first evidence of changes to brain networks in exposed sea lions, and suggests that these animals may be suffering a broad disruption of memory, not just spatial memory deficits," said Peter Cook of Emory University, leader of the research team, according to HNGN.

Scientists have located the effect of domoic acid to trigger the brain damage, but they now need to check how much of it is needed to erase the memory.

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