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Impact of anthropogenic stressors on the immune system of marine mammals

Project data

Contact: Apl. Prof. Dr. Ursula Siebert
Scientists: Dr. Sonja Fonfara (GKSS), Dr. Ursula Siebert, Antje Kakuschke (GKSS)
Cooperation: GKSS-Forschungszentrum, Institut für Küstenforschung, Marine Bioanalytische Chemie
Seehundstation Friedrichskoog
Niels van Elk, Dolphinarium Harderwijk
Christian Sonne-Hansen, Maja Kirkegaard, Ministry of Environment, National Environmental Research Institut,
Department of Arctic Environment, Roskilde Dänemark

Project description


Anthropogenic influences on the North and Baltic Seas, habitat of the marine mammals harbour seal and harbour porpoise, are manifold. Often an immune suppression is discussed, which allows pathogens to spread out, generating infections and diseases. Little is known about the influence of anthropogenic stressors on the health status of marine mammals.
To investigate this impact we analyse blood samples of harbour seals and harbour porpoises on cytokine and acute-phase-protein (APP) expression with real-time reverse transcriptase-polymerase chain reaction (real-time RT-PCR). Cytokines are messengers, initiating and regulating the immune response. Furthermore it is possible to distinguish certain immune cells (T-helpercells) on the basis of their cytokine expression. T-helpercells influence the type of the immune response. In different species APP are used as markers for inflammation and stress.
Until now little is known about the expression and function of cytokines and APP in marine mammals. The purpose of this project is to assess which cytokines and APP are produced in marine mammals and how strong is the influence of natural stressors (e.g. age and sex of the animals) and anthropogenic stressors (e.g. ship traffic, industrial units). As material we get blood samples from seals of the Seal Center Friedrichskoog (long term captivity), from pups rehabilitated in the Seal Center, and from wild-catches within the scope of the monitoring. For samples of harbour porpoises we have a collaboration with the Dolphinarium in Harderwijk, Holland.

In the context of this project we analyse blood samples from sledge dogs of a feeding study and tissue and blood samples of polar bears from Greenland in collaboration with the National Environmental Institute in Roskilde, Denmark. 

Contact person

Stiftung Tierärztliche Hochschule Hannover
Institute for Terrestrial and Aquatic Wildlife Research
Werftstr. 6
25761 Büsum


Prof. Prof. h. c. Dr. Ursula Siebert

send email

Stiftung Tierärztliche Hochschule Hannover
Institute for Terrestrial and Aquatic Wildlife Research
Werftstr. 6
25761 Büsum
Tel.:+49 511 856-8158
Fax.:+49 511 856-8181
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