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National Marine Fisheries Service, Alaska Regional Office

Southeast Alaska landscape. Photo: Mandy Lindeberg

NOAA Fisheries News Releases

August 8, 2011
Julie Speegle, 907-586-7032 w., 907-321-7032 c.

NOAA's Juneau lab determines mysterious orange goo is mass of microscopic eggs

microscopic eggs
Microscopic eggs found near the village of Kivalina

Juneau, AK Scientists at the NOAA Alaska Fisheries Science Center's Auke Bay Laboratories have determined the mysterious orange substance that washed ashore last week near the village of Kivalina is microscopic eggs.

"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," said Jeep Rice, a lead NOAA scientist at the Juneau lab. "So this is natural. It is not chemical pollution; it is not a man-made substance."

Rice and a team of NOAA biologists and chemists received a sample of the orange matter early Saturday. Their first task was to determine if it was "animal, vegetable, or mineral," said Rice.

That basic question was easily answered once scientists viewed the substance under a high-powered microscope.

"It was easy to see cellular structure surrounding the lipid droplet, and to identify this as 'animal'," said Rice. "We have determined these are small invertebrate eggs, although we cannot tell which species."

Although the eggs are natural, Rice could not rule out the possibility that the microscopic eggs were toxic. Samples have been sent to a NOAA lab on the east coast for further testing.

Kivalina is a remote Inupiat Eskimo village on Alaska's northwest coast, about halfway between Kotzebue and Point Hope. Residents became concerned last week when a never-before-seen orange goo began washing ashore.

Samples of the substance were routed to the NOAA lab by the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation lab in Anchorage.

NOAA's mission is to understand and predict changes in the Earth's environment, from the depths of the ocean to the surface of the sun, and to conserve and manage our coastal and marine resources. Visit us at http://www.noaa.gov or on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/usnoaagov. To learn more about NOAA Fisheries in Alaska, visit alaskafisheries.noaa.gov or: www.afsc.noaa.gov.

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