06/14/2012 04:47 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Japanese Tsunami Toxicity: Traveling Our Oceans

On March 11, 2011 a 9.0 earthquake-spurred tsunami and its wave train pummeled the Japanese coastline. Tons of debris including a dock and a Harley Davidson, and radioactivity are turning-up 15 months later along the westcoast, almost 6,000 miles away.

The tsunami killed over 15,000 people and at least 3,000 are still missing. It also caused the shutdown of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, but not before major radiation leaked into our biosphere. Radioactive Iodine-131, Cesium-134 and Casium-137 were released into both the atmosphere and North Pacific Ocean.

On April 4, 2011 toxicity was detected in young konago or Japanese lance fish. Radioactive iodine has a half-life of 8 days and in humans it's known to cause thyroid cancer. Radioactive cesium has unknown deleterious impacts on humans but its half-life is 30 years.

On May 28, 2012 15 Pacific bluefin tuna were found with levels of radioactive cesium, 10 times higher than the amount measured in tuna off southern California's coast in the previous years.

Bluefin tuna's are incredible creatures; these beauties of beasts grow in excess of 10 feet and easily exceed 1,000 pounds. They accelerate faster than a Ferrari and warm their blood through an ingenious heat exchange system.

Pacific bluefin tuna spawn off the coast of Japan and sprint across the Pacific to Baja California, Mexico. Along the way they feed on krill and squid.

These magnificent fish are known to contend with some low-levels of radiation by metabolizing or burning it off, particularly over thousands of miles.

The fact, Pacific bluefin tuna appeared with 10 times higher radiation levels off southern California after crossing the largest ocean on the globe strongly suggests that tens of thousands of tons of contaminated water, which poured into the North Pacific from the Fukushima plant was more toxic than previously reported.

Salmon born in fresh water streams from Alaska to California travel to the Pacific Ocean and swim over to Japan. Five years later they return, exactly to that same stream, to spawn. Those salmon, in turn, feed our west-coast black, Kermode and grizzly bears by as much as 3,500 pounds per bear per year.

The nitrogen released from those decaying salmon carcasses is recycled back into the soil and absorbed by millions of tree roots. In time, big old trees uproot, rot and release that nitrogen back into the stream to be used by young salmon. It's a breathtaking, perpetual circle of life that inexorably links the land to the sea.

Salmon, sea turtles, whales, sharks, albatross and other migratory creatures around Japan were exposed to the Fukushima radioactive waste.

All life is interconnected and what we do to the oceans we do to ourselves. Please support the conservation work of the Sea Shepherds. Buy fish with the Marine Stewardship Council certification of sustainable fisheries, which helps protect the oceans from piracy.

Earth Dr. Reese Halter is a distinguished conservation biologist, award-winning science communicator and author of "The Incomparable Honeybee" and The Insatiable Bark Beetle.