U.S. Department of Commerce


Date of this Version



Published in New Directions in Conservation Medicine: Applied Cases in Ecological Health, edited by A. Alonso Aguirre, Richard S. Ostfield, and Peter Daszak (New York: Oxford University Press, 2012), pp. 374-389.


U.S. Government Work


Harmful algal blooms (HABs) affect aquatic ecosystems around the world, adversely affecting marine animal and human health, coastal ecosystem integrity, and economies that depend on coastal resources. Shellfish poisoning events involving humans who had ingested bivalves contaminated with HAB toxins primarily drove early scientific and social interest in HABs. More recently, research efforts have shown that HABs are often temporally and spatially correlated with the occurrence of acute morbidity or mortality of marine animals (Landsberg et al. 2005), and to date at least four classes of algal toxins have been associated with such events. Although fish, seabirds, and many other groups of marine wildlife are affected, these mortality events frequently involve marine mammals, and as such this chapter will focus primarily on the latter. In addition, since marine mammals are important sentinel species that act as barometers of ocean health and demonstrate the link between ocean and human health, the importance placed on these species in this context is warranted (Aguirre and Tabor 2004; Tabor and Aguirre 2004; Wells et al. 2004; Bossart 2006).