Our Conservation Medicine team has played an integral role in epidemiological investigations of marine mammals across the U.S.
We collaborate with marine mammal managers and partner organizations to diagnose the man-made or natural stressors that drive disease and mortality in cetaceans and pinnipeds. Our goal is to understand the long-term and cumulative impacts of increasing interactions between humans and marine mammals, chemical spills in marine habitats, and a changing environment. By combining our expertise in marine mammal medicine with our expertise in field biology and wildlife epidemiology, we are able to address some of the most pressing issues facing at-risk marine mammal populations.
We are conducting studies in the Gulf of Mexico to understand the health and recovery of dolphin and whale populations following the Deepwater Horizon (DWH) oil spill. This collaborative research began as part of the DWH Natural Resource Damage Assessment and has continued with support from the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative. Dr. Cynthia Smith is leading a project to understand the causes of reproductive failure in dolphins from areas of the Gulf coast that were heavily impacted by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Dr. Lori Schwacke leads the Consortium for Advanced Research on Marine Mammal Health Assessment (CARMMHA) — a collaborative team involving 10 partner organizations from across the globe. The research consortium is combining several approaches to answer questions about the toxic effects of oil on cetaceans and to examine how dolphins and whales are recovering from the DWH spill. These approaches include bench-top laboratory research; ultrasound and biomarker diagnostic technique development with managed dolphins; field studies with free-ranging dolphins in Louisiana, Florida, and Alabama; and development of innovative data analysis and modeling approaches.