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Top Research Projects

The Marine Mammal Center began conducting research on marine mammal diseases almost from its inception in 1975. Because animals in the Center’s care offer a unique opportunity to perform blood and tissue analyses, the team has discovered conditions that bear upon the work of the organizations we collaborate with including National Marine Fisheries Service, NOAA and a variety of universities, regarding the health of the ocean. The Marine Mammal Center has become, in a sense, one of the top resources for researchers and scientists to turn to for answers about marine mammal care, medicine, and health data.

Domoic Acid Toxicosis – Toxic Algae Poisoning
In 1998, The Marine Mammal Center diagnosed the first case of domoic acid toxicosis in marine mammals, and has conducted extensive studies of the condition since then. Domoic acid produced by toxic algae accumulates in mussels, sardines, and anchovies which are then eaten by sea lions, otters, cetaceans, and humans, among others. Exposures to the biotoxin results in brain damage to sea lions, causing them to become lethargic, disoriented, and have seizures that sometimes result in death. Read more »


Leptospirosis – Kidney Damage in Sea Lions
Every four to five years, The Marine Mammal Center sees a surge in the number of California sea lions that are admitted with symptoms of leptospirosis, a bacterial infection that affects the kidneys and can be lethal for patients. If not treated, the bacteria can cause irreversible kidney damage. In 2008, nearly 200 sea lion patients were admitted with the condition, an increase over the previous year. Read more »


Cancer – High Prevalence in California Sea Lions
A specific cancer of epithelial origin was first diagnosed in California sea lions at The Marine Mammal Center in 1979. Approximately 17% of adult stranded sea lions that die are diagnosed with cancer. Read more »


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