Diseases of Marine Mammals
Leader: Carla Schubiger
This award will be used to create the 4xx/5xx course Diseases of Marine Mammals that will be part of the new Marine Mammal Graduate Certificate. This course will introduce students to the mechanisms of infectious diseases, and the paradigm of ONE HEALTH as the health of animals, the environment, and humans are tightly interconnected due to shared environments. In marine mammals, that interface is provided by the advancement of humans, their companion animals, and their effluents into the coastal environment.
A specific focus of the class will be zoonotic diseases, aka diseases that are transmitted between humans, their pets, and marine mammals. The COVID-19 pandemic has once again shown how quickly zoonotic diseases can make the interspecies jump and cause havoc in a previously naïve population. This has happened several times in recorded history, and marine mammals have been and still are impacted by such diseases. For example, the human measles virus likely originated from a virus that first caused severe illness in cattle. The close contact of humans with cattle during domestication then caused severe devastation due to measles in humans, including up to the 17th century in Native American populations. Today viruses similar to measles are causing mass mortalities in cetaceans (dolphins, whales, and porpoises) and pinnipeds (particularly seals and sea otters). In addition, the canine distemper virus (related to measles) is also evidence of a species jump and has caused mass die-offs in seals and might be correlated to mass mortalities of Northern Sea Otters in the Pacific Northwest over the last twenty years.
The course will discuss many more of these zoonotic diseases, including influenza that has established a reservoir in marine mammals and can be a source of human re-infection, and diseases transmitted from human’s best friends (cats and dogs) to marine mammals. In addition, the class will include guest lectures and field trips to learn from professionals working on marine mammal health and learn about current research on this topic. The course will be built on practices of contemporary andragogy and include principles of the Universal Design for Learning (UDL) framework for researched-based teaching and truly inclusive classrooms.