Ocean health

Promoting a healthier planet where humans and marine life thrive together

The Ocean Health program seeks to promote a healthier planet where humans and marine life thrive together. We use a One Health approach to advance ocean health by leveraging the combined power of veterinary medicine, human medicine and environmental health disciplines in marine ecosystems.

The general public is becoming increasingly aware of the link between the oceans and human health:  the oceans supply food for more than half the world’s population and they influence the global climate system.  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 a changing environment allows us to make predictions about whether animals can survive and/or thrive under a particular set of natural or artificial conditions.

Ocean health also includes the concept of indicator (aka sentinel) species, in the same way that human health is evaluated using indicator systems (e.g., cardiovascular function, sentinel lymph nodes).

Dr. Pam Yochem, D.V.M., Ph.D.

Program Leader

Primary Research Areas

  • Marine animals as sentinels for human health: studying zoonotic diseases and investigating environmental threats (e.g., biotoxins from harmful algal blooms) that affect both humans and marine life
  • Health as an explanatory variable: investigating the influence of animal health on wildlife population trends and individual animal performance (e.g., diving, migration)
  •  Marine mammal stranding investigations: documenting trends in and causes of strandings, and evaluating outcomes of rescue and rehabilitation programs
  • Aquatic animal health and epidemiology: promoting aquatic animal health; ensuring high quality fish for replenishment of depleted stocks and for human consumption

Marine animals as sentinels for human health:

Studying zoonotic diseases and investigating environmental threats (e.g., biotoxins from harmful algal blooms) that affect both humans and marine life


Boyce, W.M., I. Mena, P.K. Yochem, F.M.D. Gulland, A. Garcia-Sastre, N. Moreno, D.R. Perez, A.S. Gonzalez-Reiche and B.S. Stewart. 2013. Influenza A (H1N1)pdm09 virus infection in marine mammals in California. Emerging Microbes and Infections. (doi:10.1038/emi.2013.40).

Durden, W.N., J. St. Leger, M. Stolen, T. Mazza, and C. Londono. 2009. Lacaziosis in bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops  truncatus) in the Indian River Lagoon, Florida, USA. Journal of Wildlife Diseases 45: 849-856.

Durden, W.N., Stolen, M.K., Adams, D.H., and Stolen, E.D. Mercury and selenium concentrations in stranded bottlenose dolphin tissues form the Indian River Lagoon system, Florida. 2007. Bulletin of Marine Science, 81: 37-54.

Fire, S.E., J.A. Browning, W.N Durden and M.K. Stolen. 2020. Comparison of during bloom and inter-bloom brevetoxin and saxitoxin concentrations in Indian River  Lagoon bottlenose dolphins, 2002-2011. Aquatic Toxicology 218 (2020) 105371.

Hunt, T.D., M.H. Ziccardi, F.M.D. Gulland, P.K. Yochem, D.W. Hird, T. Rowles and J.A.K. Mazet. 2008. Health risks for marine mammal workers. Diseases of Aquatic Organisms 81:81-92.

Mendoza, L; A.F.F. Belone; R. Vilela; M. Rehtanz; G.D. Bossart; J.S. Reif; P.A. Fair, W.N. Durden;  J. St. Leger; L.R. Travassos; and P.S. Rosa. 2008. Use of sera from humans and dolphins with Lacaziosis and sera from experimentally infected mice for Western Blot Analyses of Lacazia loboi antigens. Clinical and Vaccine Immunology, 15: 164-167.

Health as an explanatory variable:

Investigating the influence of animal health on wildlife population trends and individual animal performance (e.g., diving, migration)

Aguirre, A.A., T.J. Keefe, J.S. Reif, L. Kashinsky, P.K. Yochem, J.T. Saliki, J.L. Stott, T. Goldstein, J.P. Dubey, R. Braun and G. Antonelis. 2007. Infectious disease monitoring of the endangered Hawaiian monk seal. Journal of Wildlife Diseases 43:229-241.

Fire S.E, L. Flewelling, M. Stolen, W. Noke Durden, M. de Wit, A. Spellman, Z. Wang. 2015. A brevetoxin-associated mass mortality event of bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) and Florida manatees (Trichechus manatus latirostris) along the east coast of Florida. Marine Ecology Progress Series. 526:241-251.

Nollens, H.H., R. Rivera, G. Palacios, J.F.X. Wellehan, J.T. Saliki, S.L. Caseltine, C.R. Smith, E.D. Jensen, J. Hui, W. I. Lipkin, P.K. Yochem, R.S. Wells, J. St. Leger and S. Venn-Watson. 2009. New recognition of Enterovirus infections in bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus). Veterinary Microbiology 139:170-175.

Venn-Watson, S., C. Benham, F.M.D. Gulland, C.R. Smith, J. St. Leger, P. Yochem, H. Nollens, U. Blas- Machado, J. Saliki, K. Colegrove, J.F.X. Wellehan, Jr., and R. Rivera.  2012. Clinical relevance of novel Otarine herpesvirus-3 in California sea lions (Zalophus californianus): lymphoma, esophageal ulcers, and strandings. Veterinary Research 2012 43:85. (doi:10.1186/1297-9716-43-85)

Ylitalo, G.M., M. Myers, B.S. Stewart, P.K. Yochem, R. Braun, L. Kashinsky, D. Boyd, G.A. Antonelis, S. Atkinson, A.A. Aguirre and M.M. Krahn. 2008. Organochlorine contaminants in endangered Hawaiian monk seals from four subpopulations in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. MarinePollution Bulletin 56:231-244.

Yochem, P.K., F.M.D. Gulland,  B.S. Stewart, M. Haulena, J.A.K. Mazet and W.M. Boyce. 2008. Thyroid function testing in elephant seals in health and disease. General and Comparative Endocrinology 155:635-640.

Yochem, P.K., B.S. Stewart, T. Gelatt, and D. Siniff. 2009. Health assessment of Weddell seals (Leptonychotes weddellii) in McMurdo Sound, Antarctica. Pp. 123-138 In: Diseases of Antarctic Wildlife. K.R. Kerry and M.J. Riddle (eds.). Springer-Verlag, Berlin.

Marine mammal stranding investigations:

Documenting trends in and causes of strandings, and evaluating outcomes of rescue and rehabilitation programs

Castellini, M.A., P.K. Yochem and J.M. Castellini. 2001. Differential concentration of glucose in red blood cells and plasma of a rehabilitating gray whale calf. Aquatic Mammals 27(3): 277-278.

Fauquier, D.A., Kinsel, M.J., Dailey, M.D. , Sutton, G.E., Barros, N.B., Stolen, M.K.,    Wells, R.S., Gulland, F.M.D. 2009. Prevalence, pathology, and evidence of transplacental   transfer of lungworm (Halocercus sp.) infection in bottlenose dolphins from southwest Florida. Diseases of Aquatic Organisms 88:85-90.

Reidarson, T.R., J. McBain and P.K. Yochem. 2001. Medical and nutritional aspects of a rehabilitating California gray whale calf. Aquatic Mammals 27(3): 215-221.

Rousselet, E. , M. Stolen, W.N. Durden, T. Mazza, N. Stacy, and D. Rotstein. 2018.     Bilateral polycystic kidneys and focal renal cystadenoma in a pygmy sperm whale,  Kogia breviceps. Journal of Wildlife Diseases. Doi: 10.7589/2018-01-019

Stavros, H. W. Stavros, M. Stolen, W. N. Durden, W. Mc Fee, G.D. Bossart, and P. A. Fair. 2011. Comparison and Correlation of Trace Elements in Tissues from Stranded and Free-ranging Bottlenose Dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) from the US Southeastern Atlantic Coast. Chemosphere, 82, 1649-1661.

Stolen M., J. St. Leger, W.N. Durden., T. Mazza, E.  Nilson. 2013. Fatal Asphyxiation in Bottlenose Dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) from the Indian River Lagoon. PLoS ONE 8(6): e66828. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0066828

Zagzebski, K.A., F.M.D. Gulland, M. Haulena, M.E. Lander, D. J.Greig, L. J.Gage, M.B. Hanson, P.K.Yochem and B.S. Stewart. 2006.Twenty-five years of rehabilitation of odontocetes stranded in central and northern California, 1977 to 2002. Aquatic Mammals 32:334-345.


Aquatic animal health and epidemiology:

Promoting aquatic animal health; ensuring high quality fish for replenishment of depleted stocks and for human consumption

Burdett Hart, L., D. S. Rotstein, R.S. Wells, J. Allen, A. Barleycorn, B. C. Balmer, S. M. Lane, T. Speakman, E. S. Zolman, M. Stolen, W. McFee, T. Goldstein, T. K.    Rowles, L. H. Schwacke. Skin lesions on common bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops    truncatus) from three sites in the northwest Atlantic, USA. PLoS ONE 7(3): e33081.  doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0033081

Ham-Lamme, K.D., D.P. King, B.C. Taylor, C. House, D.A. Jessup, S. Jeffries, P.K. Yochem, F.M.D. Gulland, D.A. Ferrick and J.L. Stott. 1999. The application of immuno-assays for serological detection of morbillivirus exposure in free ranging harbor seals (Phoca vitulina) and sea otters (Enhydra lutris) from the western coast of the United States. Marine Mammal Science 15:601- 608.

Quinley, N., J.A.K. Mazet, R. Rivera, T.L. Schmitt, C. Dold, J. McBain, V. Fritsch and P.K. Yochem. 2013. Serologic response of harbor seals (Phoca vitulina) to vaccination with a recombinant canine distemper vaccine. Journal of Wildlife Diseases 49:579-586.

Robles-Sikisaka, R., R. Rivera, H. H. Nollens, J. St. Leger , W. N. Durden ,  M.  Stolen, J. Burchell, J.F.X. Wellehan. 2012. Evidence of recombination and positive selection  in cetacean papillomaviruses, Virology. doi:10.1016/j.virol.2012.01.039

Silbernagel, C. and Yochem, P. 2016. Effectiveness of the anesthetic Aqui-S 20E in marine finfish and elasmobranchs. Journal of Wildlife Diseases 52(1) Supplement: S96-S103.

Silbernagel, C, Clifford, DL, Bettaso, J, Worth, S and Foley, J. 2013. Prevalence of selected pathogens in western pond turtles and sympatric introduced red-eared sliders in California, USA. Diseases of Aquatic Organisms 107: 37-47.

Stevens, B., Gorges, A., Silbernagel, C. 2020. Efficacy of two different doses of 10% eugenol in adult California yellowtail (Seriola dorsalis). Aquaculture Research 51: 1753-1756.

Wolski, L.F., R.C. Anderson, A.E. Bowles and P.K. Yochem. 2003. Measuring hearing in the harbor seal (Phoca vitulina): Comparison of behavioral and auditory brainstem techniques. Journal of the Acoustical Society of America 113:629-637.

Worthy, G.A.J., T.A.M. Worthy, P.K. Yochem, C. Dold. 2014. Basal metabolism of an adult male killer whale, Orcinus orcaMarine Mammal Science 30:1229-1237.

Wu, Q., J. Conway, K. M. Phillips, M. Stolen, W. N. Durden, D. Fauquier, W. E. McFee, and L.Schwacke. 2016. Detection of Brucella spp. in Bottlenose Dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) by a Real-Time PCR Using Blowhole Swabs. Diseases of Aquatic Organisms, 120: 241–244, doi: 10.3354/dao03034

Yochem, P.K., R.C.  Braun, B.  Ryon, J.D. Baker and G.A.  Antonelis.    2004.  Contingency plan for Hawaiian monk seal unusual mortality events. NOAA Technical Memorandum NMFS-PIFSC-2.

Yochem, P.K., B.S. Stewart, J.A.K. Mazet and W.M. Boyce. 2008. Hematologic and serum biochemical profile of the northern elephant seal (Mirounga angustirostris): variation with age, sex and season. Journal of Wildlife Diseases 44:911-921.

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