Federal researchers have discovered a potent and highly debilitating toxin in the endangered Hawaiian monk seal.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration officials said today that the chemical finding is prompting investigations of other marine mammals in Hawaii.
The study shows that Hawaiian monk seals are exposed to significant levels of the toxins, which could pose management challenges for the dwindling species.
Monk seals were sampled throughout the Hawaiian islands and samples were shipped to a South Carolina lab for toxin analyses.
The toxin is produced by marine algae common on coral reefs and accumulates in fish species that are consumed by humans. It causes a disease that affects thousands of humans in the form of gastrointestinal and neurological illness with symptoms resembling chronic fatigue syndrome.