Dead Fish (Day 242)

Sheila and I arrived at the Albany Bulb to news that there was a shark carcass decomposing on the beach. We didn’t investigate and the water was as it’s been these last weeks; dark rusty brown and a bit murky, but still somehow beautiful and refreshing.

We went earlier than we have in a while and the light was especially lovely, creating ribbons of silver in the calm bay. But, I couldn’t stop thinking about that shark and the thousands of fish that have washed ashore, the thousands more that are probably dying even as I was swimming.

The news has been full of distressing stories of dead fish and mussels around the bay. The bloom is by all accounts the worst since at least 2004 and it seems to be exasperated by climate change and, more specifically, by the mismanagement of wastewater here in the bay. In this news story, Jon Rosenfield, senior scientist with Baykeeper, explains that the nutrients released into the water from the 40 wastewater treatment plants around the Bay Area are feeding the algae, causing it to reproduce in huge quantities.

There are two ways this particular algae bloom—Heterosigma akashiwo—harms marine life: first, it can produce a toxin that is fatal to fish, but also it can consume all of the oxygen in its vicinity, causing fish to suffocate.  

I was thinking about this lack of oxygen when, at one point, I saw my seal friend. It wasn’t moving, just holding still in the water with its head pointed up; an unusual posture for the usually frisky and playful seal. It disappeared and reappeared three more times, always in that same strange position. Maybe it had nothing to do with the water, but I couldn’t help worrying that it did. 

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