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About Dr. Simeone

Dr. Claire Simeone is a Conservation Medicine Veterinarian at The Marine Mammal Center and studies how the health of marine mammals, such as sea lions and dolphins, informs and influences both human and ocean health.

In January, 2018, Dr. Simeone was selected as a TED Fellow, the first veterinarian to receive this prestigious distinction. She joins a class of 20 change-makers from around the world who will deliver a talk on the TED stage in April 2018.

Marine mammals know no national boundaries, and populations flow through the oceans across our globe. As sentinels for ocean health, sick marine mammals provide information about the state of the ocean environment, and many of the diseases and issues that affect them can have widespread impacts for humans as well.

Dr. Simeone is passionate about uncovering the mysteries of marine mammal health and disease to inform human and ocean health research. In addition to providing clinical care to marine mammals undergoing rehabilitation at the Center, Dr. Simeone also provides veterinary support for field projects around the world, leads and contributes to a variety of research projects, and lends her scientific expertise to the investigation of Unusual Mortality Events declared by NOAA.

Dr. Claire Simeone

In many countries, there are no training opportunities for hands-on experience with marine mammals, and there may be no responders who have worked with a species in the wild. That’s why Dr. Simeone helped develop the International Veterinary In-Residence training program at The Marine Mammal Center. The ripple effect of this program will build capacity in coastal communities for animal welfare, health monitoring, and conservation worldwide.

Dr. Simeone graduated from the Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine, and completed an internship with the National Marine Mammal Foundation and SeaWorld in San Diego. Before joining the Center, she worked as veterinarian with the U.S. Navy Marine Mammal Program through the National Marine Mammal Foundation.

She is also part of a team developing the Marine Mammal Health Map, a tool designed to provide a centralized data reporting system to track marine mammal health.

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Recent Publications

Simeone CA, Colitz CMH, Colegrove KM, Field C, Rios C, Chandler H, Johnson SP. Subconjunctival antibiotic poloxamer gel for treatment of corneal ulceration in stranded California sea lions (Zalophus californianus). In review at Veterinary Ophthalmology.

Sea lions frequently have eye issues, and it is often not feasible to treat wild animals with eye drops multiple times a day. Thermodynamic gels are a liquid when refrigerated and turn to a gel at body temperature. They hold antibiotics at the site of injection for up to a week. A single injection is often enough to treat an ulcer on the cornea.


A California sea lion with a corneal ulcer (stained in green, left) before treatment and the same eye seven days later after a single injection of antibiotic gel. The ulcer has healed, and the animal was later released. (Photos by Claire Simeone © The Marine Mammal Center)

Simeone CA, Traversi JP, Meegan JM, LeBert C, Colitz C, Jensen ED. Clinical management of Candida albicans keratomycosis in a bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops truncatus). In review at Veterinary Ophthalmology.

Fungal infections of the cornea can rapidly progress to vision loss and even loss of the eye. This case describes the first use of stem cells—which help the immune system repair the cornea—to treat a dolphin’s eye.


Diagrams of the anatomy of the bottlenose dolphin head (top); a dolphin with a painful, closed eye (bottom) demonstrates the location of anesthetic blocks to relieve pain and allow for evaluation and treatment. (Photo by Claire Simeone)

Johnson SP, Simeone CA. 2015. Disease. In: Castellini M, Mellish J (eds.). Marine Mammal Physiology: Requisites for Ocean Living. CRC Press. 365 pp.

Marine mammals are exquisitely adapted to live in the ocean environment. Their bodies have a variety of adaptations that protect them from disease. Understanding the physiology behind these animals helps us to better prevent and treat diseases.


This textbook on marine mammal physiology was designed for undergraduates and graduate students beginning studies about marine mammals and their health. (Photo: CRC Publishing)

Simeone C, Rowles T, Gulland F. 2014. A Systemic Review of Changes in Marine Mammal Health in North America, 1972-2012: The Need for a Novel Integrated Approach. PLoS One 10(11): e0142105. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0142105.

Marine mammals are often seen as sentinels of ocean health, but accessible, cohesive data on their health changes are rare. Toxicoses from harmful algal blooms appear to be increasing. Viral epidemics are common along the Atlantic coastline, while bacterial epidemics are common along the Pacific coast. Human-caused trauma remains a large threat to marine mammal health. A real-time system for reporting marine mammal disease data is needed to be able to understand how marine mammal diseases are changing with ecosystem changes.


Published cases of marine mammal diseases, broken down by category of disease. The size of the symbols corresponds to the number of cases in that region. The Marine Mammal Center has published one-third of all of the scientific papers about wild marine mammal health in North America. (Image by Tenaya Norris © The Marine Mammal Center)

Gutierrez J, Simeone C, Gulland F, Johnson S. 2014. Development of retrobulbar and auriculopalpebral nerve blocks in California sea lions (Zalophus californianus). Journal of Zoo and Wildlife Medicine 47(1): 236-243.

Eye lesions are common in pinnipeds. It is difficult to examine the eye if an animal is squinting, or if anesthesia is needed. Local anesthetic blocks relax the muscles around the eye, which allow the eye to be examined and treated. This paper describes techniques developed for retrobulbar and auriculopalpebral blocks in the California sea lion.


Diagram showing anatomic positioning for anesthetic blocks of the sea lion eye. Illustration by Victoria Saxe, a volunteer at The Marine Mammal Center

Nuckton T, Simeone C, Jones R. 2014. California sea lion (Zalophus californianus) and harbor seal (Phoca vitulina) bites and contact abrasions in open-water swimmers: A series of 11 cases. Wilderness and Environmental Medicine 26(4): 497-508.

Open-water swimmers often encounter marine wildlife. Seals and sea lions can bite, and may carry zoonotic diseases, which can be passed between animals and humans. This study reviewed eleven swimmer-animal interactions at the Dolphin Club in San Francisco Bay over a three-year period. Bites are reported infrequently, and typically involve the lower extremities. Because of the risk of Mycoplasma infection, treatment with a tetracycline antibiotic is recommended. Swimmers should leave the water as soon as possible after a bite or encounter.


California sea lion atop a buoy in Monterey Bay. Seals and sea lions can bite or scratch, and they should never be approached or touched if seen when swimming in the water. (Photo © The Marine Mammal Center)

Esson DW, Nollens HH, Schmitt TR, Simeone CA, Stewart B. 2015. Aphakic phacoemulsification and automated anterior vitrectomy and post-return monitoring of a rehabilitated harbor seal (Phoca vitulina richardsi) pup. Journal of Zoo and Wildlife Medicine 46(3):647-651.

Cataracts are common in marine mammals. As in humans, the lens can be surgically removed. A juvenile harbor seal was treated for early-onset cataracts in both eyes, and recovered uneventfully. She was able to capture live fish when offered, and was approved for release back into the wild. A satellite tag was placed on the animal prior to its release, and her movements suggested normal behavior. This case is an example of a successful release of a post-operative cataract case into the wild.


A rehabilitated harbor seal with a satellite-linked radio transmitter returns to waters off San Diego following cataract removal surgery. (Photo: Esson et al. 2015)

Phan TG, Gulland F, Simeone C, Deng X, Delwart E. 2014. Sesavirus: prototype of a new parvovirus genus in feces of a sea lion. Virus Genes Epub Oct 2, 2014.

A California sea lion at The Marine Mammal Center was suffering from malnutrition and pneumonia. A new viral genus, named Sesavirus, was discovered in the feces of the sea lion, which later recovered. The significance of the virus and its role in the infected sea lion remains unknown.


This phylogenetic tree shows the relationship of a new sea lion virus to other known, related viruses. Parvoviruses can infect cattle, dogs, humans and a variety of other species. The significance of this new sea lion Sesavirus is still unknown. (Figure: Phan et al. 2014)

Simeone CA, Papich M, Nollens H, Meegan JM, Schmitt T, Jensen ED, Smith, CR. 2014. Pharmacokinetics of single-dose oral meloxicam in bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus). Journal of Zoo and Wildlife Medicine 45(3): 594-599.
Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are commonly used to treat pain and inflammation, but their use has never before been studied in dolphins. While meloxicam is commonly given to humans once a day, this study showed that the drug remains in a dolphin’s body for seven days, allowing for once-weekly dosing in this species.

Simeone CA, Norris TA, Gulland FMD. Marine mammal health map: Goals and implementation through a pilot study using data from California stranding responders. Scientific Committee Document SC/65b/E05, International Whaling Commission Scientific Committee Meeting, Bled, Slovenia, 2014.
The goal of the Marine Mammal Health MAP project is to develop a web-based marine mammal health and disease mapping system that will allow managers, scientists, policy makers, and the public to track spatiotemporal trends in marine mammal health. This platform also will provide a centralized location for stranding network participants and other data providers to disseminate their collective data. The Marine Mammal Health MAP can be used to determine marine mammal health status relative to other components of the ocean ecosystem, and future health studies can be planned based on the information presented.

Simeone CA, St. Leger J, Nollens H, Schmitt T. 2015. Characterization of a follicular cell carcinoma of the thyroid in a yellowbar angelfish (Pomacanthus maculosus). Journal of Zoo and Wildlife Medicine 46(2): 431-434. 
An adult angelfish greater than 20 years of age developed a tumor on its gills. The tumor was removed, and was determined to be a thyroid carcinoma. This is the first report of a thyroid tumor and corresponding blood thyroid levels in a fish.




Simeone CA. How to treat a bruised flipper: Developing pain medications for dolphins. 2nd place winner: Ocean180 Video Challenge. Also showcased at the 40Fathoms Film Festival, Hermanus, South Africa. 2015.
The Ocean 180 Video Challenge aims to engage non-scientists and students in timely and relevant ocean science research while inspiring scientists to effectively share their discoveries and excitement for research with the public. The goal is to broaden the reach of scientific knowledge by providing educational opportunities for students and enhancing the communication skills of ocean scientists. Dr. Simeone’s short video described her study that was the first to research the way pain medications work in a dolphin’s body. We usually take one pill a day if we have a headache or a sprained ankle, but we learned that we only need to give a dolphin one pill a week for pain relief! Thanks to the dolphins that participated, we now have a treatment for dolphins with pain and inflammation, and we are one step closer to keeping our ocean – and the animals in them – healthy.

Ocean 180 Video Challenge 2014 - Pain medication for dolphins from Claire Simeone on Vimeo.

You’re The Expert: Marine Mammals and Dolphin Drugs (Episode #35)
You’re The Expert is a radio show that features three comedians trying to guess what a scientist studies all day. Dr. Simeone was the featured scientist during the Bay Area Science Festival, where she shared her work traveling all over the world to save marine mammals.

Bay Science Collaborative: Conserving San Francisco Bay: How Marine Mammal Health Impacts the Health of the Bay (30:05 start)
The Romberg Tiburon Center at San Francisco State University hosted the inaugural meeting of the Bay Science Collaborative, bringing marine scientists together to share 5 minute ‘ignite-style’ talks about the health of San Francisco Bay and its communities.

Reddit Ask Me Anything (AMA): I am Dr. Claire Simeone of The Marine Mammal Center and I am working on the Sea Lion Crisis our coasts are facing. Ask Me Anything for World Oceans Day:
Reddit hosts live chat events, where users can ask a guest any questions about a particular topic. In honor of World Oceans Day, Reddit hosted an AMA featuring Dr. Simeone, who answered questions about the California sea lion Unusual Mortality Event and other marine mammal-themed questions.

Marin Science Seminar: Sick Seals and Seizing Sea Lions: What Marine Mammals Can Tell Us About the Health of Our Oceans
Founded in spring 2008, the Marin Science Seminar is a free, science cafe type event for teens & community in Marin County, California. Dr. Simeone gave a lecture about her work at The Marine Mammal Center and with National Marine Fisheries Service.



Selected Media:

CBS Evening News: How Veterinarians are Saving Southern California’s Starving Sea Lion Pups

Getty Images: Starving Sea Lions Washing Up on California Beaches

Hakai Magazine: A New Treatment Could Save Sea Lions From Deadly Algae

VMRCVM Tracks Magazine: Dr. Claire Simeone: From guinea pigs to fur seals

NOAA Fisheries: Mystery in the Aleutian Islands

The Telegraph: Giant Sperm Whale Carcass Washed Up on California Beach

Santa Cruz Sentinel: Dungeness Downer: Delays Expected for Crab Fishing Season

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