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Domoic acid toxicity in Californian sea lions (Zalophus californianus): clinical signs, treatment and survival
  1. E M. D. Gulland, VetMB,PhD1,
  2. M. Haulena, DVM, MSc1,
  3. D. Fauquier, DVM1,
  4. M. E. Lander, MSc1,
  5. T. Zabka, DVM1,
  6. R. Duerr1 and
  7. G. Langlois, PhD2
  1. 1 The Marine Mammal Center, 1065 Fort Cronkhite, Sausalito CA 94965, USA
  2. 2 Department of Public Health, University of California at Berkeley, CA 94720, USA


Eighty-one Californian sea lions (Zalophus californianus) with signs of domoic acid toxicity stranded along the coast of California in 1998 when there were blooms of the domoic acid-producing alga Pseudonitzschia australis off-shore. In 2000, a further 184 sea lions stranded with similar clinical signs, but the strandings occurred both during detectable algal blooms and after the blooms had subsided. The clinical signs in these 265 Californian sea lions included seizures, ataxia, head weaving, decreased responsiveness to stimuli and scratching behaviour. Affected animals had high haematocrits, and eosinophil counts, and high activities of serum creatine kinase. They were treated supportively by using fluid therapy, diazepam, lorazepam and phenobarbitone. Fifty-five of the 81 sea lions (68 per cent) affected in 1998 and 81 of the 184 (44 per cent) affected in 2000 died despite the treatment. Three of the 23 sea lions which survived in 1998 were tracked with satellite and radiotransmitters; they travelled as far south as San Miguel Island, California, and survived for at least three months. Eleven of the 129 animals which were released stranded within four months of being released.

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