US Geological Survey


Document Type


Date of this Version



Harmful Algae 120 (2022) 102319.


Open access.


The Chesapeake Bay, along the mid-Atlantic coast of North America, is the largest estuary in the United States and provides critical habitat for wildlife. In contrast to point and non-point source release of pesticides, metals, and industrial, personal care and household use chemicals on biota in this watershed, there has only been scant attention to potential exposure and effects of algal toxins on wildlife in the Chesapeake Bay region. As background, we first review the scientific literature on algal toxins and harmful algal bloom (HAB) events in various regions of the world that principally affected birds, and to a lesser degree other wildlife. To examine the situation for the Chesapeake, we compiled information from government reports and databases summarizing wildlife mortality events for 2000 through 2020 that were associated with potentially toxic algae and HAB events. Summary findings indicate that there have been few wildlife mortality incidents definitively linked to HABs, other mortality events that were suspected to be related to HABs, and more instances in which HABs may have indirectly contributed to or occurred coincident with wildlife mortality. The dominant toxins found in the Chesapeake Bay drainage that could potentially affect wildlife are microcystins, with concentrations in water approaching or exceeding human-based thresholds for ceasing recreational use and drinking water at a number of locations. As an increasing trend in HAB events in the U.S. and in the Chesapeake Bay have been reported, additional information on HAB toxin exposure routes, comparative sensitivity among species, consequences of sublethal exposure, and better diagnostic and risk criteria would greatly assist in predicting algal toxin hazard and risks to wildlife.