Monday, February 4, 2008

Razor Clam Redux

WDFW has posted a news release about a tentatively scheduled razor clam dig this week. If the marine toxin tests are acceptable, Twin Harbors will open for four late-evening digs between February 6-9, while Long Beach will open on Feb. 8 and 9.

A little history about these tests: In the summer of 1961, hundreds of sooty shearwaters, a pelagic bird species that mostly eats fish and comes ashore only to breed, invaded the town of Capitola, California. They attacked people, crashed windows, and wreaked havoc. It is thought that this event inspired Alfred Hitchcock to make The Birds. Scientists speculate the culprit may have been a marine toxin known as domoic acid. The toxin was first discovered in Pacific shellfish in 1991 and led to immediate harvest closures. Razor clam digging in Washington was banned for a year. Domoic acid doesn’t seem to bother the fish and shellfish it infects, but in humans and other animals high up the food chain it enters the brain and warps nerve signals. The human illness is known as amnesic shellfish poisoning and symptoms include headache, dizziness, confusion, loss of short-term-memory, motor weakness, seizures, cardiac arrhythmia, and coma. High doses can even lead to death. There is no antidote.

The toxin is responsible for several deaths in North America. In 1998, 400 California sea lions were killed by domoic acid. State biologists must regularly test razor samplings from up and down the coast before they can announce an opening. So next time you tuck into a juicy fried razor clam, thank your humble state fisheries biologist.

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