Biotoxins - Sentinel Species - Research

Research Area #2 | Sentinel Species > Biotoxins

Marine biotoxins impact organisms in the food web differently. For example, shellfish are rarely impacted by the toxins whereas marine mammals are highly affected.

Shellfish and marine mammals are exposed to marine biotoxins through their prey. Affected marine mammals develop neurological signs of impact, including tremors, disorientation, and seizures, and can die.

Domoic acid outbreaks have killed dozens of marine mammals, but we don't yet understand the long-term sublethal effects. Are there long-term effects of domoic acid on neurological function and reproduction? If so, what does this mean for humans who consume contaminated shellfish?

We also don't yet understand the ability of shellfish to tolerate toxins in their food. Could understanding this mechanism(s) help us better understand and prevent human health effects?


Our research goals (2004-2009) are to:

  • Use California sea lions as a sentinel and model for investigating long-term sublethal effects of biotoxins on neurological function and reproduction.
  • Improve understanding of shellfish resistance and tolerance to toxins.



Principal Investigators:

Marine Mammals
Dr. John Stein, Northwest Fisheries Science Center

Dr. Vera Trainer, Northwest Fisheries Science Center

Key External Collaborators:

Marine Mammals
Dr. Frances Gulland, The Marine Mammal Center
The next link/button will exit from NWFSC web site Dr. Linda Lowenstine, University of California, Davis

Northwest Fisheries Science Center Researchers:

Dr. Kathi Lefebvre



Marine Mammals
The next link/button will exit from NWFSC web site The Marine Mammal Center
The next link/button will exit from NWFSC web site UC Davis Pathology, Mircobiology & Immunology

Northwest Fisheries Science Center Harmful Algal Bloom Program