Blue-green algae may have inspired Hitchcock movie

29 December 2011

Naturally-occurring toxins, sparked by nutrients from leaking sewage, may have provided Alfred Hitchcock with the idea for his movie, The Birds.

Detroit Free Press reports that:

In a Hitchcock-style twist, therefore, leaky septic tanks installed amid a housing boom around Monterey Bay in the early 1960s perhaps led to the poisoned birds plummeting from the air in 1961. And they inspired a film that scared the bejabbers out of filmgoers worldwide two years later, one ranked among the American Film Institute’s Top 10 thrillers of the last century.

Call it the Case of the Poisoned Plankton. Looking at the stomach contents of turtles and seabirds gathered in 1961 Monterey Bay ship surveys, [Sibel] Bargu and colleagues have now found toxin-making algae were present in 79% of the plankton that the creatures ate. In particular, the team finds in the current Nature Geoscience journal that the leading toxin inside the plankton was a nerve-damaging acid, which causes confusion, seizures and death in birds.

“This is the most compelling evidence so far that there’s a direct link,” says University of Southern California plankton expert Raphael Kudela, not part of the study team. In a 2008 report Kudela and colleagues pointed to the toxic acid as the likely 1961 culprit and also first reported that septic tank leaks may have fed the toxic algae, rather than farm fertilizers long blamed.

Sibel Bargu is an Harmful Algal Blooms researcher with the Louisiana State University School of Coast and the Environment.

And you thought movie producers just dream this stuff up?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *