IMAGE 1: Mystery orange invertebrate eggs as seen under the microscope. (NOAA)
A mysterious orange substance, shown above, washed ashore along the Arctic coast of Kivalina, Alaska, and inundated the small Inupiat Eskimo village last week. In areas where the sun dried the material, winds scattered it as a thin orange dust, giving the first impression that it was a type of pollen.
Found several miles inland in the fresh water Wulik River, the orange material turned gooey and gave off a gaseous odor. But scooped out of the ocean, the substance had no odor and "was light to the touch, with the feel of baby oil," relayed Janet Mitchell, City Administrator for Kivalina, to Discovery News.
IMAGE 2 and 3: Mystery material as seen washed along the coast of Kivalina. (Photos by Mida Swan)
After the high tide washed the orange material away, the town learned that it might have also been toxic, as several small minnows died during the event.
Whether it is indeed toxic, or perhaps had an affect on the oxygen content in the water is, as of yet, undetermined. But the town has no history of pollen events and algae experts ruled out the material as a harmful algal bloom.
So what is it?
Samples of the substance were sent to the NOAA Alaska Fisheries Science Center’s Auke Bay Laboratories in Juneau for identification. As seen under the microscope, the bead-like shape and cellular structure gives the clue that the mystery orange material is in fact a spawn of little eggs. But the marine biologists ruled out the dead minnows as the moms. “We have determined these are small invertebrate eggs, although we cannot tell which species,” said Jeep Rice, a lead NOAA scientist at the Juneau lab in a press release. “We now think these are some sort of small crustacean egg or embryo, with a lipid oil droplet in the middle causing the orange color,” he added.
Kivalina Village and the NOAA lab in Juneau are now waiting to hear back from another lab in South Carolina that specializes in phytoplankton blooms to learn the identity of the parents of this egg invasion. "We are sitting on the edge of our seats wanting to know," said Julie Speegle a spokesperson for the Juneau lab.