The health of marine wildlife is a barometer of the health of the oceans, which sustain all life on this planet. Decline in the health of animals living in the oceans is an early warning system for issues that will ultimately affect human health and well-being.

The Ocean Health and Marine Stress Program takes an integrated approach to marine wildlife health with an emphasis on understanding the impacts of human activities on marine species and habitats. Using innovative methods, we pioneered the field of health assessment for free-swimming large whales, including hormones, biotoxins, disease, genetics, and visual health metrics.

We conduct cutting-edge research in marine endocrinology on whales, manatees, seals, and sea turtles, and our scientists are validating new approaches to measure hormones in novel sample types—including feces, baleen, and respiratory vapor (“blow”). Using our visual health assessment method we follow trends in the health of individual North Atlantic right whales and across the population over decades.

When we started this program in 1999, there was no existing methodology to study health in a living right whale.
- Rosalind Rolland, D.V.M., Anderson Cabot Center Senior Scientist

Our goal is to understand, quantify, and reduce the consequences of human activities on the health of marine species and ecosystems.

Our scientists:

  • Use hormone analysis to study stress and reproduction in marine wildlife;
  • Develop novel non-invasive tools using alternative sample types for marine endocrinology and health assessment;
  • Conduct health assessments to evaluate individual animal fitness and to monitor populations as early warning indicators for populations in trouble;
  • Use health as an integrator of the impact of multiple stressors.

Did you know that our program pioneered the use of scent detection dogs to locate fecal samples from whales at sea?

Learn more about specific research projects:

  1. [IMG] Right whale researchers collect

    Marine Stress

    Chronic stress can have profound effects on immune system function, health, reproduction, and survival of marine life.

  2. Right Whales

    With fewer than 500 whales remaining, our researchers are working tirelessly to study and protect this critically endangered species.

  3. [IMG] An underwater manatee looks at the camera.

    Other Marine Mammals

    Our scientists are working to identify, characterize, and assess the threats facing marine mammal populations.

  4. [IMG] New England Aquarium researchers are working with a rescued sea turtle.

    Sea Turtles

    Our researchers document the physical and physiologic effects of human interactions and natural phenomena on sea turtle health.