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Top Research Projects

The Marine Mammal Center has been conducting research on marine mammal diseases since 1975. Because animals in our care offer a unique opportunity to perform blood and tissue analyses, The Marine Mammal Center has become a leading resource 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. This neurotoxin produced by toxic algae accumulates in mussels, sardines and anchovies, which are then eaten by sea lions, otters, cetaceans and humans, among others. Exposure to domoic acid results in brain damage, causing lethargy, disorientation and seizures that sometimes result in death.

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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.

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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 26% of adult stranded sea lions that die are diagnosed with cancer.

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