Ocean ‘robot’ to help identity toxic algae off Washington

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La Push sunset. From Terry in Port Angeles.

SEATTLE (AP) _ After a massive toxic algae bloom closed lucrative shellfish fisheries off the West Coast last year, scientists are turning to a new tool that could provide an early warning of future problems.

Scientists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the University of Washington last week deployed the so-called ocean robot about 50 feet into waters off the coast of La Push, near a known hotspot for toxic algae blooms.

The tool, dubbed “a laboratory in a can,” will remain in the water until mid-July, providing real-tme measurements about the concentrations of six species of microscopic algae and toxins they produce, including domoic acid.

Scientists also plan to put the instrument back out in the ocean in the fall.