It is with pleasure that I write this note to Nicks’n’Notches to say hello to the Sarasota Dolphin Research Program community that supported me throughout my graduate studies. I have served as the coordinating veterinarian for the SDRP health assessments in Sarasota Bay for a number of years. While completing my doctoral degree from the University of California, Santa Cruz, on the effects of red tides on sea birds in Sarasota Bay, I had the opportunity to become a Knauss Marine Policy Fellow in Washington, D.C. The National Sea Grant College Program, John A. Knauss Marine Policy Fellowship, was created in 1979, and provides a unique educational experience to students, exposing them to national policy decisions affecting ocean, coastal, and Great Lakes resources (http://seagrant.noaa.gov/FundingFellowships/KnaussFellowship.aspx). After the completion of my Knauss fellowship in early 2013, I was able to continue working for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), National Marine Fisheries Service’s Marine Mammal Health and Stranding Response Program (MMHSRP; http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/health/). The MMHSRP was established by Congress to facilitate the collection, dissemination, and correlation of reference marine mammal data and assess health trends as well as coordinate responses to unusual mortality events (UMEs).
My current work at the MMHSRP involves interacting with our partners from the National Marine Mammal Stranding Network, marine mammal researchers from government, academia and non-governmental organizations, the public health community, and international colleagues on issues relating to marine mammal health, mortality events, public health including emerging diseases, and global issues such as the impact of increased anthropogenic activities on marine mammal habitats and health. During the past year I have been actively involved in managing the response to the Mid-Atlantic UME which is a caused by a morbillivirus outbreak (a disease similar to measles) that has killed more than 1,400 bottlenose dolphins since July 2013 along the Atlantic coast from New York to Northern Florida (http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/health/mmume/midatldolphins2013.html).
I have also spent time assisting with the Natural Resource Damage Assessment (NRDA) process for marine mammals from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Additionally, I have been able to continue working with SDRP staff on both NRDA and bottlenose dolphin health assessment projects. The marine ecosystem is undergoing rapid changes, some natural and some man-made, including increases in harmful algal blooms, changes related to climate change, increased industrial utilization of the oceans, and the impacts of marine debris. In the future, I plan to continue to work on both national and international issues related to marine mammal health and conservation, and to highlight the role of marine mammals as sentinels of the changing ocean environment.
This article was published on page 26 in the November 2014 issue of Nicks n Notches