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.

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Filed under: Alaska • Environment • Nature
soundoff (82 Responses)
  1. Oscar

    Sesame street is a really seedy part of town.

    August 18, 2011 at 11:43 pm | Report abuse |
  2. huxley

    I, for one, welcome our new Fungal Overlords.

    August 19, 2011 at 12:05 am | Report abuse |
    • Slotracer

      At last... they have arrived! Soon all creatures of earth will bow down to the Fungus Maximus... leader of all Fungi. For many years the meatbags of earth have consumed mushrooms. Little did they know that mushrooms were placed here to observe. For punishment we must all eat psylocybin mushrooms. (wait... that sounds like fun!!)

      August 19, 2011 at 3:14 am | Report abuse |
    • Godwin's Law

      "Like"

      August 19, 2011 at 4:14 am | Report abuse |
    • paddlefeet

      I bow to no one,besides,all things being equal,wonder what the lil'tykes would think of me?

      August 19, 2011 at 5:05 am | Report abuse |
    • Soulcatcher

      I am the Mycon King I can do anything!

      August 19, 2011 at 7:13 am | Report abuse |
  3. Tea Party! I'll Bring The Scones!!!!

    Do you really think this unAmerican-socialist-orange fungus would have washed up on our beautiful Alaskan coastline if SARAH PALIN were still Governoratrix!!

    August 19, 2011 at 12:35 am | Report abuse |
    • EK

      ......yes. Yes I do.

      August 19, 2011 at 1:52 am | Report abuse |
    • NanookoftheNorth

      You're right.....that's why it knew better than to wash up on Lake Lucille 😉
      NanookoftheaNorth

      August 19, 2011 at 2:38 am | Report abuse |
  4. Marty & Sid

    The Great Space Coaster has brought the fungus among us.

    August 19, 2011 at 12:39 am | Report abuse |
  5. CT Yankee

    This strange event will undoubtably happen more and more as time goes by.......In the past people who live in the northern reaches of our planet have been insulated from any number of fungi, bacteria, viruses etc, harmful or otherwise, due to the cryogenic, for lack of a better word, nature of cold weather......as the planet warms up, the "bugs" we see moving north from the warmer regions of our planet will be joined by the over-population of "bugs", who were previously small in number due to reproductive restrictions caused by cold weather, from the north..............what an interesting world it will be!..............of course, these "life-forms" may mutate to forms we are not familiar with and may cause havoc with our present abilities to resist health problems in human populations that have not developed immunities from the contact that will inevitably occur between us and them............a worry among biologists, I'm sure, may be that some life-form, previously dormant, for which we have lost our ancient immunities, may re-awaken.

    August 19, 2011 at 2:31 am | Report abuse |
    • NanookoftheNorth

      .....but will it do something about ridding us of the killer mosquitos ?

      August 19, 2011 at 2:42 am | Report abuse |
    • CT Yankee

      No actually, as the planet warms and wetlands and swamps increase........their area of habitation will increase as well.......the only natural event that might effect them would be drought.

      August 19, 2011 at 3:52 am | Report abuse |
    • shambz

      ....I got goose pimples

      August 19, 2011 at 3:57 am | Report abuse |
    • Sniggles

      Like T-Rex?

      August 19, 2011 at 4:54 am | Report abuse |
    • paddlefeet

      totally negative vibes dude,sheesh.... The only Presidential candidate that hates orangish goo more than we do? you ask? I'll tell yas, Ron Paul!!! He'll stop all foreign aid,Israel first. Vote RON PAUL or sit there and be orange.

      August 19, 2011 at 5:13 am | Report abuse |
    • Greg

      Yes Sniggles, exactly like T-Rex.

      August 19, 2011 at 6:00 am | Report abuse |
  6. Sattymike

    I hope they scooped enough of it up before it disappeared. It could be the source of true re-newable energy or the next medical break-through or have any number of positive applications. Of course, it could also turn us all into Walking Orange Goo Zombies or wipe out 90% of the world population. But hey, you've got to roll the dice with these things!

    August 19, 2011 at 3:21 am | Report abuse |
  7. tucole

    then explain how ppl found the orange stuff also in buckets and other outside pales?

    August 19, 2011 at 3:28 am | Report abuse |
  8. CheeseSteak

    I thought maybe the Palins has some more kids.

    August 19, 2011 at 3:29 am | Report abuse |
  9. Northern Light

    Those aren't eggs, they are spores. And those aren't dead polar bears floating in the melting ice. They are stuffed animals from a cargo ship run aground. Situation normal.

    August 19, 2011 at 5:13 am | Report abuse |
  10. T-Rex was a scavenger

    Just as zoos depend on the cuddly koala bear image to draw crowds, museums of natural history depend upon the T-Rex's image as an apex predator. It's just an imagined T-Rex though. In reality, the T-rex was a scavenger, NOT an apex predator. All predatory dinosaurs had extermely good eyesight and massive forelegs. The T-Rex had very poor vision and tiny little forelegs. But it had one thing common to all scavengers, an extemely sensitive sense of smell. The fact that T-Rex was just a scavenger has been well known for decades, but for some reason, people refuse to accept this simple truth.

    August 19, 2011 at 5:23 am | Report abuse |
    • Al

      T-Rex would eat you alive if he were around today.

      August 19, 2011 at 5:35 am | Report abuse |
    • CT Yankee

      Well, that's one opinion and I'm happy to see you have an opinion and that you may have studied with the Montana boys but there is really no way to know if one can't observe the animals behavior.........there are valid arguments to both premises.........but it may equally be true that T-rex was an opportunist and was both a scavenger AND a predator...........we'll just have to wait and see what happens when they turn on the correct genetic switches on the chicken and put it in a cage with a bull or an elephant.

      August 19, 2011 at 8:58 am | Report abuse |
  11. Jason

    OH-OH HA-HA!!! My original prediction was correct!!! Kudos to me!!! Kudos to me, indeed!

    August 19, 2011 at 6:19 am | Report abuse |
  12. Seymour

    Time to assemble a congressional subcommittee to figure out how to reduce the amount of fungus. They will probably decide to remove small sections of it at a time from one side, seemingly unaware of how it is spreading exponentially in the other direction. They seem to employ this technique often.

    August 19, 2011 at 6:33 am | Report abuse |
  13. HIH

    egg or fungi that is the question

    August 19, 2011 at 6:44 am | Report abuse |
  14. How do politicians pilliage SS?

    @Seymour. Too funny. Or they could cut it in half and feed it to the other half. Seems to be working, not.

    August 19, 2011 at 6:45 am | Report abuse |
  15. @ Al

    T-Rex could smell you, but he couldn't see you from 30 feet away. Anything faster than a twoaptoed sloth could easily get-away from a sniffing T-Rex. google it...the trex was in fact a scavenger, not an apex hunter.

    August 19, 2011 at 7:05 am | Report abuse |
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