Alaskan mystery substance is fungal spores, not eggs, NOAA says
This image, taken with a scanning electron microscope, shows one of the spores that comprised the substance found in Kivalina.
August 18th, 2011
09:01 PM ET

Alaskan mystery substance is fungal spores, not eggs, NOAA says

A mysterious orange substance found on the shores of an Alaskan village this month is a mass of fungal spores, not microscopic eggs as an initial analysis indicated, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said Thursday.

The spores are consistent with those that come from a fungus that causes rust, a plant-only disease that causes a rust-like appearance on leaves and stems, NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service said.

This orange substance mystified residents of Kivalina, Alaska, when it appeared on their shore August 3.

A NOAA lab in Juneau, Alaska, said last week that the substance appeared to be a mass of microscopic eggs, possibly those of a small crustacean. But samples were then taken to a NOAA lab with more advanced equipment - including a scanning electron microscope - in Charleston, South Carolina, NOAA spokeswoman Julie Speegle said.

That equipment and consultation with various specialists helped lead to the latest determination, said Steve Morton, a research oceanographer with the Charleston lab. It’s not known whether the spores belong to one of the 7,800 known rust fungi species, NOAA said.

“The spores are unlike others we and our network of specialists have examined. However, many rust fungi of the Arctic tundra have yet to be identified,” Morton said in a news release.

Residents of Kivalina, an Inupiat Eskimo village of about 430 people in northwest Alaska, found the substance in its lagoon - giving the lagoon an orange sheen - and clumps of the orange stuff on the beach on August 3. A resident who took pictures of the substance, Mida Swan, told CNN that it had an oily feel, like baby oil.

No one knew what it was. Village leaders were concerned that the substance might be a pollutant, and the state Department of Environmental Conservation sent samples to several labs.

Morton said by phone Thursday that rust fungi grow only on plants. Some grow without harming the plant, but others steal the plant’s nutrients, Morton said. He said it is not clear whether the spores in this case are of a parasitic rust fungus.

Though the fungus doesn’t harm humans, spores in general - like pollen and mold spores - can contribute to respiratory diseases or allergic reactions, Morton said.

Leaders in various state agencies and programs, such as the Department of Environmental Conservation's Division of Water and the state's Drinking Water Program, are assessing whether the spores pose a risk to Kivalina and whether any action is necessary, said Emanuel Hignutt, analytical chemistry manager for the state's Environmental Health Laboratory.

The substance appeared to have dissipated days after it came to shore, said Janet Mitchell, Kivalina city administrator.

Kivalina is about 650 miles northwest of Anchorage, Alaska.

Post by:
Filed under: Alaska • Environment • Nature
soundoff (82 Responses)
  1. Tom


    August 18, 2011 at 9:14 pm | Report abuse |
    • nhnhn


      August 18, 2011 at 11:28 pm | Report abuse |
  2. diaz

    Can i eat them??? Looks tasty!

    August 18, 2011 at 10:23 pm | Report abuse |
    • yikes

      no. don't eat it.

      August 18, 2011 at 10:54 pm | Report abuse |
  3. BB


    August 18, 2011 at 10:39 pm | Report abuse |
  4. yikes

    i would stay away from those. some people think all fungi will kill you, but some are faster than others. i think that was in the tired of being sick and tired book.

    August 18, 2011 at 10:54 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Whooo

    Oh thank God my life can get back to normal now. I was worried about this since the story broke.

    August 18, 2011 at 10:54 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Catman42

    I don't know - I'm not a paranoid or conspiracy theorist, but there's something about this whole story that just doesn't feel right. It seems like they're thrashing around, trying to decide which line to feed to the public.

    August 18, 2011 at 10:54 pm | Report abuse |
    • GreyHotDogsRBad

      I completely agree! Fungal spores my a$$, smells like cover up.....big time!

      August 18, 2011 at 11:10 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jazzzzzzzz

      You would be correct, We all know 80% of the story is a farce and the rest is a dribble of truth spread in to make it sound kosher.

      August 18, 2011 at 11:29 pm | Report abuse |
    • michaelfury

      Interesting what a scanning electron microscope can reveal:

      August 19, 2011 at 7:21 am | Report abuse |
    • Jame

      Or most likely a human being made a mistake with the initial analysis and further study corrected the mistake. I know it sounds odd, but people do make mistakes. I know this makes life less fun, then imagining a conspiracy behind everything.

      But you must admit, the reasoning of my sound mind makes a lot more sense.

      August 19, 2011 at 8:41 am | Report abuse |
  7. Elexsor

    As I said when they first found the orange substance. All the villagers will be zombies soon.

    August 18, 2011 at 10:58 pm | Report abuse |
  8. NipponReptilian

    Some people speculated this incidence is related to "Russia Shoots Down U.S. ICBM Minuteman 3 Missile". Check Youtube or

    August 18, 2011 at 10:59 pm | Report abuse |
  9. cm

    eggs...fungi – I don't think they know what it is. Be afraid – very afraid. All transactions will now be monitored.

    August 18, 2011 at 11:07 pm | Report abuse |
  10. A. Lincoln

    Pod people.....aliens.

    August 18, 2011 at 11:14 pm | Report abuse |
  11. telemander

    Cookie Monster Tom Waits made this story worth reading.

    August 18, 2011 at 11:26 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Rob MIch

    Hahahahaha, I wish the guy who was saying he's a "professional" and that it was from the oil spill was still around to relive how stupid he was when he said the world is going to end in 50 years from pollution!

    August 18, 2011 at 11:32 pm | Report abuse |
    • emtech

      Rob Mich – I have no idea what's going on with this substance, but pollution quite often creates causes vegetative blooms. There's a HUGE bloom right now in China due to toxic runoff pouring into sea.

      August 18, 2011 at 11:41 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Destroy All Humans

    Those are my reinforcements. Unfortunately they need to land in spore form (saves in travel expenses), they they fully mature when exposed to laboratory petri dishes.. Hahahahahaha.. Stupid humans.. So predictable.

    August 18, 2011 at 11:40 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Californian

    I was willing to accept the eggs theory (or almost accept, since there was that not-so-small matter of it appearing in rain barrels), but rust-fungus I have never seen rust spores that feel "like baby oil." I have a wide ranging knowledge of fungus and lichen (a fungus with algae growing on it), and this just doesn't fit. Reports said it came in from the ocean. I was willing to trust official agencies to come up with an answer on this, but no longer. I think there is a cover up.

    August 18, 2011 at 11:41 pm | Report abuse |
    • NanookoftheNorth

      No.....the villagers all agree it was Tang !

      August 19, 2011 at 2:51 am | Report abuse |
  15. Destroy All Humans

    Typo *they then* stupid human cell phone. I miss my think and type alien communicator..

    August 18, 2011 at 11:42 pm | Report abuse |
    • Elexsor

      That made me chuckle. haha

      August 19, 2011 at 10:40 am | Report abuse |
1 2 3 4