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Algal Toxins Alter Wildlife Behavior, Researchers Find

Rare aggressive behaviors observed in California sea lion populations, including an attack on swimmers last August, may now be explained as a delayed but temporary symptom of domoic acid poisoning.

A study conducted by scientists at the National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science—which appeared in the January issue of Physiology and Behavioridentifies the link between aggressive behaviors and epileptic symptoms arising weeks to months after eating food contaminated with domoic acid, a toxin produced by a common ocean algae. After inducing rats with domoic acid epilepsy, researchers observed a period of little or no aggressive behavior, followed by a peak in aggression that then declined again.

The results of this research will be helpful in the treatment of affected animals, while making the public aware of the reason behind this behavior.

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