Mysterious orange goo identified as mass of microscopic eggs

Photo courtesy NOAA Alaska Fisheries Science Center’s Auke Bay Laboratories

Federal scientists say they have tentatively identified the mysterious orange goo that showed up recently in a lagoon near Kivalina. It appears to be a concentration of microscopic eggs.

Jeep Rice, research biologist at the Ted Stevens Marine Institute in Auke Bay, says their lab staff first tried to figure if it was plant, animal, or mineral. Several chemists were called in after the samepls arrived Saturday because of concerns that the substance may be some form of chemical pollution. But Rice says the chemists weren’t needed once they spotted the basic egg structure under a high powered microscope.

“They’re down in the micron range,” says Rice. “A herring egg would be a thousand microns. So (these eggs are) down in the one to ten microns, maybe larger. They’re very, very small.”

Since the eggs are so small and their internal features are very hard to distinquish, it’s unclear what laid the eggs. Rice suspects some sort of invertebrate, perhaps a crustacean like a copepod. But Rice says it’s hard to tell for sure.

The orange color of the goo seems to come from a lipid oil droplet in the center of each egg.

The eggs that were collected for sampling either dried up or died despite being refrigerated for transport.

Area residents were concerned earlier this month when the never-before-seen substance showed up. Rice says it’s possible the eggs just happened to concentrate in that lagoon because of wind or tidal action.

Even though the goo was determined to be natural, Rice would advise against eating or consuming the eggs. There’s a remote possibility they could be toxic in some form.

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