Scientists in an Auke Bay research center have identified the mysterious orange goo that recently washed ashore near the northern village of Kivalina to be a form of microscopic eggs.
Scientists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Alaska Fisheries Science Center suspect they are some sort of crustaceous eggs or embryos, not chemical or man-made pollution as was previously feared.
The cellular structure told the Juneau team it was definitely in the “animal” category, according to one of the lead scientists, Jeep Rice. He said that it’s still not known-and may not be known-what kind of animal.
Rice said it’s customary to let eggs hatch to discover the species in these situations, but most of the sample is presumed dead. The eggs themselves don’t give enough clues to what animal they came from.
“We just know it’s an invertebrate,” said Rice.
He said that the substance is definitely natural so it isn’t a pollutant. He said this doesn’t necessarily mean it isn’t toxic, although he said this is unlikely. Samples have been sent to an east coast lab for further analyses.
The brightly-colored goo was sent to the Juneau lab because early photos indicated it may have been associated with chemicals or pollutants. This speculation mostly came from the unusual coloring, which Rice said could be from a lipid oil droplet in the middle of the eggs.
He said the lab in Anchorage isn’t as much set up for “marine CSI” for chemicals, thus the sample was sent here. Diagnosing the stuff as natural was an easy task once it arrived.
Rice said occurrences of different unknown substance are common and should be looked at. Although unsure what species this is, he said this appears to be a good year for it.
“It seems like there’s something happening all the time,” he said.
Whether the eggs are toxic worries many of the 374 residents of Kivalina, an Inupiat Eskimo community located at the tip of an 8-mile barrier reef on Alaska’s northwest coast.
There’s been at least one report of dead minnows found in the lagoon of the village the night the eggs appeared last week. Residents also are worried about the community’s dwindling reserves in village water tanks even though the orange mass has dissipated from the lagoon and Wulik River, said city administrator Janet Mitchell.
“It seems to be all gone,” she said. “But if they’re microscopic eggs, who’s to say they’re not still in the river?”
The eggs were found on at least one roof and in buckets set all over the village to collect rain water.
Scientists also don’t know why the unidentified eggs suddenly emerged on the shores of Kivalina last week. Villagers say they’ve never seen such a phenomenon before.
“We’ll probably find some clues, but we’ll likely never have a definitive answer on that,” NOAA spokeswoman Julie Speegle said.
• Contact reporter Jonathan Grass at 523-2276 or firstname.lastname@example.org. The Associated Press also contributed to this report.