Diseases of Marine Mammals

Diseases of Marine Mammals

Number of credits: 6 European Credit Transfer and Accumulation System (ECTS)
Price: 840 €
Price for UAB students*: 200 €
*Max. 5 places
Teaching Language: English
Place: UAB Campus Bellaterra (Cerdanyola del Vallès)
Teaching Period: 22 June to 10 July 
Contact: summer@uab.cat
Professor: Mariano Domingo Álvarez  (and other teachers and residents of the Department)

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Enrolment guidelines


Mariano Domingo is a Veterinary Pathologist with strong background and knowledge of pathogenesis and pathology of animal diseases, and with a long experience in diseases of Marine Mammals. Participation since 1990 in the stranding network of the Catalonian Government, performing necropsies of stranded cetaceans, and determining the causes of death. Trainer in Marine Mammal Pathology for the residents of the European College of Veterinary Pathologists in the three last editions of this topic in the ECVP summer school. Author of 165 scientific articles on animal diseases, 34 of them related to wild animals, and 18 of them referring to diseases of cetaceans.


Contents overview

The subject will be dedicated to a general description of the main diseases and threats that affect cetaceans (dolphins and whales) and pinnipeds (seals and sea lions) in the world. The course will review the main conditions that affect these species, with an interdisciplinary view, ordered etiologically (bacterial, viral, parasitic, anthropogenic and other non-infectious problems). It will include theoretical and practical sessions.

The theoretical classes will cover the core knowledge of the different diseases and conditions, including aetiology, pathogenesis, clinical signs and lesions, and diagnostic procedures, and impact on the populations. Diseases will be described using specific individual cases with archive material and images. Information will be extended with basic references and chapters on each topic, made available to the students one or several days in advance to discussion in the class.

Methodological aspects will also be taught, with introduction to the different methodologies of disease detection and investigation of specific causes of death. As part of the practical training, a full necropsy of a dolphin (frozen and thawed for the course) will be performed by the students at the necropsy room of the Veterinary Faculty. Information on diseases will be complemented with practical lectures using the microscope and visualizing slides of specific diseases at the microscopy laboratory.

Week programme

Week Contents Teaching / learning activities
A. Methodologies for disease investigation
1. Diseases of cetaceans. Viral diseases
2. Bacterial and fungal diseases
3. Protozoan diseases     
  • Lectures. Case discussions
  • Necropsy of a cetacean (performed at the Necropsy room of the Veterinary School)
B. Diseases of cetaceans (cont.)
4. Metazoan parasites in cetaceans 
5. Anthropogenic interactions
6. Non-infectious diseases       
  • Lectures. Case discussions 
  • Histopathology sessions on microscope (at the Microscopy laboratory) 
3 C. Diseases of pinnipeds 
1. Viral diseases 
2. Bacterial and fungal diseases 
3. Parasitic diseases (including protozoa) 
4. Biotoxins
  • Lectures. Case discussions 
  • Histopathology sessions on microscope Discussion of selected papers (presentation by groups of 2-3 students)
  • Evaluation (written exam)


  1. Students will have to present orally in the class a critical review of a scientific paper, performed in groups of 2-3 students, following a pre-established format. This presentation will receive a qualification (40% of the note).
  2. Students will complete a written examination with short questions and answers (60% of the note). The final qualification will the sum of both qualifications.
  3. Evaluation will be completed two days before the end of the 3rd week of the course.

Links and references

  • Bernaldo De Quirós Y, Fernandez A, Baird RW, Brownell RL, Aguilar De Soto N, Allen D, Arbelo M, Arregui M, Costidis A, Fahlman A, Frantzis A, Gulland FMD, Iñíguez M, Johnson M, Komnenou A, Koopman H, Pabst DA, Roe WD, Sierra E, Tejedor M, Schorr G (2019): Advances in research on the impacts of anti-submarine sonar on beaked whales. Proc R Soc B Biol Sci 286.
  • Bressem M-F Van, Duignan P, Banyard A, Barbieri M, Colegrove K, Guise S De, Guardo G Di, Dobson A, Domingo M, Fauquier D, Fernandez A, Goldstein T, Grenfell B, Groch K, Gulland F, Jensen B, Jepson P, Hall A, Kuiken T, Mazzariol S, Morris S, Nielsen O, Raga J, Rowles T, Saliki J, Sierra E, Stephens N, Stone B, Tomo I, Wang J, Waltzek T, Wellehan J (2014): Cetacean Morbillivirus: Current Knowledge and Future Directions. Viruses 6:5145–5181
  • Colegrove KM, Lowenstine LJ, Gulland FMD (2005): Leptospirosis in Northern Elephant Seals (Mirounga angustirostris) Stranded along the California Coast. J Wildl Dis 41:426–430
  • Cozzi B, Huggenberger S, Oelschläger H (2016): Anatomy of dolphins: Insights into body structure and function.
  • Domingo M, Visa J, Pumarola M, Marco AJ, Ferrer L, Rabanal R, Kennedy S (1992): Pathological and immunocytochemical studies of morbillivirus infection in striped dolphins (Stenella coeruleoalba). Vet Pathol 29:1–10
  • Duignan P, Bressem M-F Van, Baker J, Barbieri M, Colegrove K, Guise S De, Swart R de, Guardo G Di, Dobson A, Duprex W, Early G, Fauquier D, Goldstein T, Goodman S, Grenfell B, Groch K, Gulland F, Hall A, Jensen B, Lamy K, Matassa K, Mazzariol S, Morris S, Nielsen O, Rotstein D, Rowles T, Saliki J, Siebert U, Waltzek T, Wellehan J (2014): Phocine Distemper Virus: Current Knowledge and Future Directions. Viruses 6:5093–5134
  • Fernández A, Edwards JF, Rodríguez F, Espinosa De Los Monteros A, Herráez P, Castro P, Jaber JR, Martín V, Arbelo M (2005): “Gas and fat embolic syndrome” involving a mass stranding of beaked whales (Family Ziphiidae) exposed to anthropogenic sonar signals. Vet Pathol 42:446–457
  • Gulland FMD, Dierauf LA, Whitman KL (2018) CRC Handbook of Marine Mammal Medicine, Third Edition.
  • Guzmán-Verri C, González-Barrientos R, Hernández-Mora G, Morales J, Baquero-Calvo E, Chaves-Olarte E, Moreno E (2012): Brucella ceti and Brucellosis in Cetaceans. Front Cell Infect Microbiol 2:1–22
  • Isidoro-Ayza M, Ruiz-Villalobos N, Pérez L, Guzmán-Verri C, Muñoz PM, Alegre F, Barberán M, Chacón-Díaz C, Chaves-Olarte E, González-Barrientos R, Moreno E, Blasco JM, Domingo M (2014): Brucella ceti infection in dolphins from the Western Mediterranean sea. BMC Vet Res 10:1–10
  • Leger JA St., Begeman L, Fleetwood M, Frasca S, Garner MM, Lair S, Trembley S, Linn MJ, Terio KA (2009): Comparative Pathology of Nocardiosis in Marine Mammals. Vet Pathol 46:299–308
  • Moore MJ, Hoop J Van Der, Barco SG, Costidis AM, Gulland FM, Jepson PD, Moore KT, Raverty S, McLellan WA (2013): Criteria and case definitions for serious injury and death of pinnipeds and cetaceans caused by anthropogenic trauma. Dis Aquat Organ 103:229–264
  • Raga JA, Banyard A, Domingo M, Corteyn M, Bressem MF Van, Fernández M, Aznar FJ, Barrett T (2008): Dolphin morbillivirus epizootic resurgence, Mediterranean Sea. Emerg Infect Dis 14:471–473
  • Resendes AR, Almería S, Dubey JP, Obón E, Juan-Sallés C, Degollada E, Alegre F, Cabezón O, Pont S, Domingo M, Almeria S, Dubeytt JP, Ob E, Juan-Sallsll C, Cabez O (2002): Disseminated Toxoplasmosis in a Mediterranean Pregnant Risso’s Dolphin (Grampus griseus) with Transplacental Fetal Infection. J Parasitol 88:1029–1032
  • Silvagni PA, Lowenstine LJ, Spraker T, Lipscomb TP, Gulland FMD (2005): Pathology of domoic acid toxicity in California sea lions (Zalophus californianus). Vet Pathol 42:184–191
  • Soto S, Alba A, Ganges L, Vidal E, Raga JA, Alegre F, González B, Medina P, Zorrilla I, Martínez J, Marco A, Pérez M, Pérez B, Vargas Mesas AP De, Valverde RM, Domingo M (2011): Post-epizootic chronic dolphin morbillivirus infection in Mediterranean striped dolphins Stenella coeruleoalba. Dis Aquat Organ 96:187–194
  • Soto S, Marco A, Domingo M, González R, Alegre F, González B, Medina P, Raga JA (2011): Epizootic of dolphin morbillivirus on the Catalonian Mediterranean coast in 2007. Vet Rec 169:1–3