We’ve learned that dolphin DNA is closer to humans than cows, horses or pigs, despite the fact that they live in the water. Now it’s been discovered that record numbers of these friendly relatives, along with sea lions, are being killed by a deadly toxin from sea algae that grows in the waters along California’s southern coast.

The poison is domoic acid, a nerve toxin made by a species of microscopic algae. Scientists think there’s so much more of this algae around because it’s feeding on nutrients from agricultural runoff or sewage. Changing weather patterns, causing warmer ocean waters, could also cause the algae to thrive.

Since April, five dolphins and 148 California sea lions have been found stranded on beaches from Santa Barbara through Orange County. All of the dolphins died, but many of the sea lions, mostly pregnant females, are being treated at marine mammal rehabilitation centers. Pelicans, grebes and loons have also been affected.

Domoic acid has also been found in mussels, oysters, sardines, and anchovies from Santa Barbara, Ventura, Los Angeles, and Orange Counties. Since it can also cause human illness or death, the California Department of Health Services warns people not to harvest their own shellfish between May 1 and Oct. 31.

What would animals tell us if we could only learn to listen? Find out how to do it on this week’s Dreamland!

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