A pair of young rescued sea lions helped researchers determine that fetal exposure to a toxin called domoic acid resulted in epileptic seizures later in the marine mammals’ lives. The pups were rescued over a year ago on a California beach, and following observation became residents of the Kansas City Zoo. When the pair exhibited signs of epilepsy, zoo staff contacted NOAA for guidance. NOAA research and response data indicated that the sea lions had not been recently exposed to the toxin in utero (domoic acid comes from a naturally occurring algae off the West Coast). The findings reveal there may be months of lag time between an animal’s exposure to a toxin and any signs of illness – a risk of which conservation managers should be aware.
On February 19. 2010, the lead researcher was a guest on the radio program “Talk of the Nation: Science Friday.”