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Healthy Oceans, Healthy Planet: Ocean and Human Health

The health of an ecosystem depends in part on the capacity for acclimation and adaptation of the species that comprise it. Studying how animals react to natural or human-made changes allows us to make predictions about whether animals can survive and/or thrive under a particular set of natural or artificial conditions. The Hubbs-SeaWorld Research Institute’s (HSWRI) Physiology and Ocean Health Program studies the factors that influence the health of marine animals and systems. This includes research into the potential impacts of human activities, environmental fluctuations, and infectious and non-infectious diseases on population dynamics and on individual animal vitality and performance.

Among the threats faced by marine animals are biological toxins produced during harmful algal blooms (aka ‘red tides’).   HSWRI scientists are working with colleagues from several other organizations to investigate possible links between mass mortality events and severe blooms of a marine algal species that produces brevetoxin, a potent neurotoxin.   One such die-off affected dolphins and manatees in 2007 and 2008. The investigators found brevetoxin in a dolphin fetus and a dolphin neonate sampled by HSWRI and in milk from a lactating manatee, providing new evidence that marine mammals may become exposed in utero or while nursing.

Examination and isotopic analysis of archived samples collected from stranded dolphins by HSWRI scientists are providing new insights into a multi-species die-off affecting the biota of the Indian River Lagoon, Florida in 2013.

Long-term biomedical research at the California Channel Islands continues, including evaluating seals and sea lions for evidence of exposure to zoonotic diseases (those that can be transmitted from animals to humans) and contaminants.