Comparison of Health and Behavior Parameters in Rehabilitated Stranded and Wild Harbor Seal Pups (Phoca vitulina concolor)

EPA Grant Number: R831068
Title: Comparison of Health and Behavior Parameters in Rehabilitated Stranded and Wild Harbor Seal Pups (Phoca vitulina concolor)
Investigators: Ono, Kathryn , Beekman, Gerard
Institution: University of New England - University Campus
EPA Project Officer: Packard, Benjamin H
Project Period: September 1, 2003 through August 31, 2005 (Extended to August 31, 2006)
Project Amount: $243,800
RFA: Targeted Research Grant (2002) Recipients Lists
Research Category: Ecological Assessment , Targeted Research


This project proposes to assess the pathogen loads and general health of harbor seal pups (Phoca vitulina concolor) from two sources: those that are incapacitated to the extent of being considered stranded and brought in for rehabilitation by the Northeast Stranding Network, and those that are wild-caught and presumably healthy. Pups from both groups will undergo a battery of diagnostic/screening tests before being released. Satellite tags track location and diving parameters will be applied to individuals from both groups to ascertain post-release behavior including movement, diving, haulout, and survival. Finally, we will look at the correlations between medical findings and the post-release behavior of pups.


Standard diagnostic procedures utilized in the study will include: antibiotic sensitivities, fecal analysis, thyroid profiles, cortisol levels, viral serology, complete blood counts, and serum chemistries. Each pup will be tested upon entry into the rehabilitation facility, and upon release. Some diagnostic tests will be given periodically throughout the period of rehabilitation. Post-weaning wild pups will be tested once as they are released within hours of being caught. Satellite tags will ascertain behavioral differences between individuals with different early experiences, pathogen and health parameters, especially those related to toxins.

Expected Results:

Marine mammals are important sentinels of ocean health in that they feed high in the trophic hierarchy and bioaccumulate toxins in their extensive blubber layer. Blubber is utilized by females to produce milk for neonates. Therefore, young pups are good indicators of toxins and pathogens that affect the population. Marine mammals are also affected by the pathogens and antibiotics found in effluent from anthropogenic activities. Knowledge of the pathogens affecting the Northeast harbor seal population will benefit government regulatory agencies as well as mammal rehabilitation centers. We expect to find that survival, diving ability, movement patterns and haulout frequency will be affected by a combination of pathogen load, experience, and body condition. Animals with the lowest pathogen load, most experience in the natural world, and highest mass should have the best outcomes.

Publications and Presentations:

Publications have been submitted on this project: View all 2 publications for this project

Supplemental Keywords:

mammalian, viruses, bacteria, marine science, biology, ecology, zoology, remote sensing, pinniped, phocid, veterinary., RFA, Scientific Discipline, ECOSYSTEMS, Ecosystem Protection/Environmental Exposure & Risk, exploratory research environmental biology, Ecosystem/Assessment/Indicators, Oceanography, Biochemistry, Environmental Monitoring, Ecological Monitoring, Ecological Indicators, marine ecosystem, pathogens, aquatic ecosystem, ecosystem assessment, FDP, Federal Demonstration Project, animal responses, pathogen recognition, pathobiological, aquatic habitat, ecological assessment, ecological impacts, assessment methods, marine mammals

Progress and Final Reports:

  • 2004
  • 2005 Progress Report
  • Final