Northwest Fisheries Science Center

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Document Type: Journal Article
Center: NWFSC
Document ID: 4325
Title: Domoic acid exposure, clinical signs, and histopathology in Pacific harbor seals (Phoca vitulina richardii)
Author: Elizabeth A. McHuron, Denise J. Greig, Katie Colegrove, Michelle Fleetwood, Terry R. Spraker, Frances M.D. Gulland, James T. Harvey, Kathi A. Lefebvre, Elizabeth Rose Frame
Publication Year: 2013
Journal: Harmful Algae
Volume: 23
Pages: 28-33
Keywords: harmful algal bloom, domoic acid, neurological signs, harbor seal, Phoca vitulina, Pseudo-nitzschia,harmful algal bloom,domoic acid,neurological signs,harbor seal,Phoca vitulina,Pseudo-nitzschia,harmful algal bloom,domoic acid,neurological signs,harbor seal,Phoca vitulina,Pseudo-nitzschia

Domoic acid (DA) is a potent neurotoxin that has caused strandings and mortality of seabirds and marine mammals off the California coast.  Pacific harbor seals (Phoca vitulina richardii) are an abundant, nearshore species in California; however, DA exposure and toxicosis have not been documented for harbor seals in this region.  To investigate DA exposure in harbor seals, samples were collected from free-ranging and stranded seals off California to assess exposure, clinical signs of toxicosis, and brain lesions in harbor seals exposed to DA.  Domoic acid was detected in 65% (17/26) of urine samples collected from apparently healthy free-ranging seals, with concentrations of 0.4–11.7 ng/ml.  Domoic acid also was detected in feces (2.4–2887 ng/g), stomach contents (1.4 ng/g; stranded only), milk (2.2 ng/ml; stranded only), amniotic fluid (9.7 ng/ml; free-ranging only), fetal meconium (14.6–39.8 ng/g), and fetal urine (2.0–10.2 ng/ml).  Clinical signs indicative of DA toxicosis were observed in two live-stranded seals, and included disorientation, seizures, and uncoordinated movements.  Histopathology revealed the presence of brain lesions consistent with DA toxicosis in two live-stranded seals, and one free-ranging seal that died during capture.  Results indicated that harbor seals were exposed to DA, exhibited clinical signs and histological lesions associated with DA exposure, and that pups were exposed to DA in utero and during lactation via milk.  Future investigation is required to determine the magnitude of impact that DA has on the health and mortality of harbor seals.

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Theme: Sustaining Marine Ecosystem and Human Health
Foci: Characterize the exposure risks and effects of pathogens, chemical contaminants, and biotoxins on human and marine animal health using sentinel species and biomedical models