Toxic Sea Slugs Information
Cawthron Scientists discovered that the sea slug Pleurobranchaea maculata (Richard Willan & John Morton 1984 Marine Molluscs Part 2 Opisthobranchia. Published by University of Auckland, Leigh Marine Laboratory Page 59) contains the deadly toxin tetrodotoxin or TTX. This discovery was made by Cawthron's algal toxin specialists .
The team at Cawthron consists of experts in marine and freshwater ecology , biotoxins, toxicology and analysis. The discovery of TTX in New Zealand and in a soft bodied sea slug were both new and exciting developments for the scientists involved. The discoveries raised many new questions about the risk to beach goers, since four dogs had died from TTX poisoning after visiting beaches in the Hauraki Gulf. Because TTX has never been found in New Zealand or in sea slugs there are many scientific questions that need to be addressed so that future questions about risk can be answered. Anyone with questions about the risks that sea slugs pose to people should check with the Auckland Regional Public Health Service
Below is a list of frequently asked questions - detailed information is contained in a comprehensive Auckland Regional Council report
Where do sea slugs live?
Throughout New Zealand coastal waters from intertidal zones to 250 metres they are found in a range of habatats from silt and sand to rocky shores on open coast.
How do sea slugs kill dogs?
The most likely explanation is that the dog picks up a dead sea slug in it's mouth. This is enough to give the dog a lethal dose of TTX. The dog does not need to eat the sea slug.
What do these sea slugs look like?
Here's a picture of a live sea slug in a tank and some specimens that were found washed up on a beach.
What beaches are affected by sea slugs?
We know TTX can be found at Narrow Neck, Cheltenham and Coromandel beaches (near Tapu). We believe toxic sea slugs inhabit all the coastal area between the North Shore and Coromandel and that it is possible the range of toxic sea slugs extends well beyond this area. We have not found any toxic specimens in the Nelson area.
What should I do if I see a sea slug?
Avoid contact with the sea slug. Mark the spot, leave well alone and phone your local city or district council, who will collect the slug safely.
What should I do if my child touches a sea slug?
Immediately remove the sea slug, do this as quickly as possible using your hands if necessary, bury the sea slug without touching it and then immediately wash your childs and your own hands in water (seawater or freshwater). Carefully observe your child for any signs of illness, rush them to A&E if you suspect poisoning.
What should I do if I think my child has eaten a sea slug?
Immediately rush to A&E.