Skip to main content
U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government

Official websites use .gov
A .gov website belongs to an official government organization in the United States.

Secure .gov websites use HTTPS
A lock ( ) or https:// means you’ve safely connected to the .gov website. Share sensitive information only on official, secure websites.

NIST Aids the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in the Area of Marine Animal Health


Marine animal health is affected by stressors including disease and man-made pollution. NIST assists NOAA primarily by evaluating marine-life exposure to man-made toxicants and by archiving specimens for retrospective analysis.


NIST provides NOAA the capacity to accurately assess exposure of marine animals to stressors and a mechanism for retrospective analysis of marine animal tissues. This work enhances NOAA's capability to manage marine animal populations. Federally protected marine species are impacted by many man-made and non man-made factors that can lead to declines in their populations. The information provided by NIST helps NOAA to make informed decisions about which stressors lead to the greatest harm, and whether these factors can be alleviated. Methods for assessing contaminants and disease are continually improving. The availability of banked samples from protected marine species allows for the ability to assess past levels of contamination, disease, and physiological markers of health. Management actions by NOAA based on information provided by NIST will help to conserve protected species for future generations.

Major Accomplishments

  • Collection protocols for marine animal health assessment samples  
  • A facility of archiving marine samples for retrospective work
  • Non-invasive sampling alternatives to assess exposure
  • New methods to assess pollutants in marine wildlife blood
  • Methods to measure new pollutants


Photograph of dolphins being corraled


Data being acquired from a dolphin


  1. Alava JJ, Keller JM, Kucklick JR, Wyneken J, Crowder L, Scott GI (2006) Loggerhead sea turtle (Caretta caretta) egg yolk concentrations of persistent organic pollutants and lipid increase during the last stage of embryonic development. Science of the Total Environironment, 367:170-181.
  2. Blanvillain G, Jeffrey A. Schwenter JA, Day RD, Christopher SJ, Roumillat B, Owen DW (2007) The use of diamondback terrapins, Malaclemys terrapin, as sentinel species for monitoring mercury pollution of estuarine systems in South Carolina and Georgia.  Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry, 26:1441-1450.
  3. Day RD, Segars AL, Arendt MD, Lee AM, Peden-Adams MM (2007) Relationship of blood mercury levels to health parameters in the loggerhead sea turtle (Caretta caretta). Environmental Health Perspectives, 115:1421-1428.
  4. Day RD, Christopher SJ, Becker PR, Whitaker DW (2005) Monitoring mercury in the loggerhead sea turtle, Caretta caretta. Environmental Science and Technology, 39:437-446.
  5. Christopher SJ, Day RD, Bryan CE, Turk GC (2005) Improved calibration strategy for measurement of trace elements in biological reference materials via collision-cell inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry. Journal of Analytical Atomic Spectrometry, 20:1035-1043.
  6. Davis WC, Vander Pol SS, Schantz MM, Long SE, DayRD, Christopher SJ (2004) An accurate and sensitive method for the determination of methylmercury in biological specimens using GC-ICP-MS with solid phase microextraction. Journal of Analytical Atomic Spectrometry, 19:1546-1551.
  7. Keller JM, Kannan K, Taniyasu S, Yamashita N, Day RD, Arendt MD, Segars AL, Kucklick JR (2005) Perfluorinated compounds in the plasma of loggerhead and Kemp's ridley sea turtles from the southeastern coast of the United States. Environmental Science and Technology, 39:9101-9108.
  8. Keller, J.M., Thorvalson, K., Sheridan, T., Harms, C.A., Segars, A.L., Beasley, J., Day, R., Peden-Adams, M.M., Kucklick, J.R., Norton, T. 2007. Organic contaminant concentrations change in debilitated loggerhead turtle plasma during recovery in rehabilitation. 27th Annual Symposium on Sea Turtle Biology and Conservation. Myrtle Beach, South Carolina 22-28 Feb 2007. NOAA Technical Memorandum (2008) NMFS-SEFSC-569, p. 20.
  9. Keller, J.M., Kucklick, J.R., Harms, C.A., Segars, A.L., Cluse, W., Godfrey, M., Tuttle, A., Braun-McNeill, J., Lee, A.M., Day, R., Peden-Adams, M., Thorvalson, K., Dodd, M., Norton, T. 2006. Organic contaminant concentrations are higher in debilitated loggerhead turtles compared to apparently healthy turtles. 26th Annual Symposium on Sea Turtle Biology and Conservation. sland of Crete, Greece. 2-8 Apr 2006.
  10. Keller J.M., Swarthout R.F., Carlson B.K.R., Yordy J., Guichard A., Schantz M.M., Kucklick, J.R. in press. Comparison of five extraction methods for measuring PCBs, PBDEs, organochlorine pesticides, and lipid content in serum. Analytical Bioanalytical Chemistry.
  11. Keller JM, Kucklick JR, Harms CA, Kannan K, McClellan-Green PD (2003) Polychlorinated biphenyls, organochlorine pesticides, and perfluorooctanesulfonate in the blood of loggerhead sea turtles. Organohalogen Compounds, 62:33-36.
  12. Keller JM, Kucklick JR, Harms CA, McClellan-Green PD (2004) Organochlorine contaminants in sea turtles: Correlations between whole blood and fat. Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry, 23:726-738.
  13. Keller JM, Kucklick JR, McClellan-Green PD (2004) Organochlorine contaminants in loggerhead sea turtle blood: Extraction techniques and distribution among plasma and red blood cells. Archives of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology, 46:254-264.
  14. Keller JM, Kucklick JR, Stamper MA, Harms CA, McClellan-Green PD (2004) Associations between organochlorine contaminant concentrations and clinical health parameters in loggerhead sea turtles from North Carolina, USA. Environmental Health Perspectives, 112:1074-1079.
  15. Keller JM, McClellan-Green PD, Kucklick JR, Keil DE, Peden-Adams MM (2006) Effects of organochlorine contaminants on loggerhead sea turtle immunity: comparison of a correlative field study and in vitro exposure experiments. Environmental Health Perspectives, 114:70-76.
  16. Kucklick JR, Becker PR, Struntz WDJ, Mackey EA, Porter BJ, Schantz MM, Oflaz RD, Epstein MS, Wise SA, Rowles TK, McFee WE, Stolen MK (2002) Persistent Organochlorine Pollutants and Elements Determined in tissues of Rough-Toothed Dolpohins (Steno bredanensis) Banked from a Mass Stranding Event. National Institute of Standards and Technology, NISTIR 6857, Gaithersburg, MD.
  17. Kucklick JR, Christopher SJ, Becker PR, Pugh RS, Porter BJ, Schantz MM, Mackey EA, Wise SA, Rowles TK (2002) Description and Results of the 2000 NIST/NOAA Interlaboratory Comparison Exercise Program for Organic Contaminants and Trace Elements in Marine Mammal Tissues. National Institute of Standards and Technology, NISTIR 6849, Gaithersburg.
  18. Kucklick JR, Krahn MM, Becker PR, Porter BJ, Schantz MM, York GS, O'Hara TM, Wise SA (2006) Persistent organic pollutants in Alaskan ringed seal (Phoca hispida) and walrus (Odobenus rosmarus) blubber. Journal of Environmental Monitoring 8:848-854.
  19. Kucklick JR, Pugh RS, Becker PR, Schantz MM, Wise SA, Rowles TK (2005) Description and Results of the 2003 NIST/NOAA Interlaboratory Comparison Exercise Program for Organic Contaminants in Marine Mammal Tissues. National Institute of Standards and Technology, NISTIR 7269, Gaithersburg, Maryland.
  20. Kucklick JR, Stahl KJ, McFee W, Becker PR, Stapleton H, Baker JE (2002) Toxaphene and PBDEs in Atlantic white-sided and rough-toothed dolphins. Organohalogen Compounds, 58:453-455.
  21. Kucklick JR, Tuerk KJS, Vander Pol SS, Schantz MM, Porter BJ, Wise SA (2003) Concentrations of polybrominated diphenyl ether congeners and toxaphene in selected marine standard reference materials. Organohalogen Compounds, 60:126-129.
  22. Kucklick JR, Tuerk KJS, Vander Pol SS, Schantz MM, Wise SA (2004) Polybrominated diphenyl ether congeners and toxaphene in selected marine standard reference materials. Analytical and Bioanalytical Chemistry, 378:1147-1151.
  23. Litz JA, Garrison LP, Fieber LA, Martinez A, Contillo JP, Kucklick JR (2007) Fine-scale spatial variation of persistent organic pollutants in Bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) in Biscayne Bay, Florida. Environmental Science and Technology, 41:7222-7228.
  24. Peck AM, Pugh RS, Moors A, Ellisor MB, Porter BJ, Becker PR, Kucklick JR (2008) Hexabromocyclododecane in white-sided dolphins: Temporal trend and stereoisomer distribution in tissues. Environmental Science and Technology, 42:2650-2655.
  25. Stapleton HM, Dodder NG, Kucklick JR, Reddy CM, Schantz MM, Becker PR, Gulland F, Porter BJ, Wise SA (2006) Determination of HBCD, PBDEs and MeO-BDEs in California sea lions (Zalophus californianus) stranded between 1993 and 2003. Marine Pollution Bulletin, 52:522-531.
  26. Struntz DJ, Kucklick JR, Schantz MM, Becker PR, McFee WE, Stolen MK (2004) Persitent organic pollutants in rough-toothed dolphin (Steno bredanensis) sampled during an unusual mass stranding event. Marine Pollution Bulletin, 48:164-173.
  27. Tuerk KJ, Kucklick JR, Becker PR, Stapleton HM, Baker JE (2005) Persistent organic pollutants in two dolphin species with focus on toxaphene and polybrominated diphenyl ethers. Environmetal Science and Technololgy, 39:692-698.
  28. Tuerk KJ, Kucklick JR, McFee WE, Pugh RS, Becker PR (2005) Factors influencing persistent organic pollutant concentrations in the Atlantic white-sided dolphin (Lagenorhynchus acutus). Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry, 24:1079-1087.

NIST has leveraged its extensive experience in environmental measurements to provide its partners with information needed to assess marine animal health. The most recent effort provided reliable measurements of trace elements and organic pollutants in marine animal blood. Blood is being used more frequently in health studies for exposure assessment as it can be collected less invasively than can tissue biopsies. NIST has also developed methods for the determination of "pollutants of emerging concern," including brominated flame retardants and perfluorinated substances, that have only recently been recognized as potentially toxic to marine life. NIST assists NOAA by developing standardized collection protocols for samples to be used for the assessment of marine animal health. These protocols are being used for assessing the health of bottlenose dolphins, beluga whales, and loggerhead sea turtles. Recently, relationships of pollutant concentrations among various tissues of bottlenose dolphins and sea turtles have been examined to determine if non-lethally collected samples can be used for exposure assessment. Other studies have examined the physiological pathways leading to poor cardiac health in pygmy sperm whales and toxic mechanisms of perfluorinated compounds in northern fur seals and California sea lions.

Created January 22, 2009, Updated March 19, 2021