Minus tides, sunny weather and the weekend could very well induce tide-poolers and beachcombers to consider picking up some bivalves for roasting over the campfire, but as many longtime residents know, the Kodiak Island Archipelago is not the place to go clam digging.
The reason, according to the Marine Advisory Program’s Julie Matweyou, is a deadly poison that accumulates in the area’s bivalve shellfish.
“Paralytic shellfish poisoning is caused by a saxitoxin that is produced by a phytoplankton, a marine phytoplankton,” she said. “The shellfish consume the phytoplankton and accumulate the toxin in their bodies. And when people or animals come along and consume the shellfish they can become sick from the PSP toxins.”)
And when Matweyou says sick, she means it can also be fatal. In fact, a poisonous algae bloom is the leading suspect in the deaths of nearly a dozen large fin whales in Kodiak Island waters at the end of May.
Here’s what she says to look out for if you do ingest clams or cockles gathered locally:
“So tingling, numbness, nausea, headache, floating sensation,” she said. “And in severe cases of toxin ingestion you can become paralyzed and ultimately have respiratory paralysis which would lead to death.”
Matweyou says bivalve shellfish in Kodiak area waters are pretty much always loaded with dangerous levels of PSP, but even more so in the summer when the water warms and the plankton bloom.