Photo by Erika Dold
In 2001, marine mammal workers and volunteers were
asked to participate in a survey designed to investigate the type and
severity of injuries and illnesses experienced during their work with
marine mammals. This web site contains selected results from that
survey, in addition to information about specific diseases for which
workers may be at risk of exposure and infection.
A total of 483 researchers, rehabilitators, and
workers associated with zoos, aquaria and swim-with-the-dolphin
programs participated in the survey.
The largest proportion of respondents
identified research as the primary field through which they contacted
marine mammals; the second most frequently reported field being rehabilitation.
respondents 308 (64%) reported having had an injury or illness during the time they worked with marine mammals; more than
half, 261, believed their illness or injury was due directly to
marine mammal contact.
Reported health events were categorized as trauma,
skin ailments, respiratory illnesses, and prolonged malaise.
Respondents were asked to provided a description and diagnosis of their
problems due to marine mammal contact as reported by marine
mammal workers participating in a survey between Dec. 2001-Sept.
(Including deep wounds (77),
bites (38), wounds requiring stitches (26), and fractures(10))
Erysipeloid infections b
Mycoplasma spp. b
Other bacterial infections a
perfringens, Staphylococcus aureus, Mycobacterium
marinum, Corynebacter spp., Pseudomonas spp.,
Vibrio spp., Pseudomona spp.)
Inflammation post necropsy
Tuberculosis pneumonia a
Systemic affects after traumatic
(no specific etiology given)
Agent was cultured from patient
b Agent was suspected in diagnosis
then a half of all respondents,
251, reported having suffered a
percent (113/483) reported they had developed a skin
reaction during their time in contact with marine mammals; while
75 reported their skin rash/reaction was resultant from marine
respondents, nearly 1 in 10, reported specifically
36 reported acquiring a skin reaction following a marine mammal
- Less than 1 in 5 people (18%) reported a respiratory illness
during their time in contact with marine mammals.
- Of those, about one-fifth (20%) believed their illness to be a
result of direct marine mammal contact.
- Only 30 out of the 483 participants reported suffering a prolonged
malaise, and only 9 believed their illness was a result of marine
- People who worked with marine mammals for more than 50
days per year (i.e. more than once per week) were 23 times
more likely to experience injury, and nearly twice as likely to
experience a skin reaction than those with less marine mammal exposure
- Those exposed to marine mammals for more
than 5 years were close to 19 times more likely
to experience injury, and nearly twice as likely to
experience a skin reaction.
People who worked with live marine mammals were 7 times
more likely to be injured.
- People who either came in contact with marine mammal excretions and
vomit or tissue and blood samples were three
times more likely to experience injury,
- Those who either contacted marine mammal excretions and
vomit or were involved in cleaning and repairing
enclosures and equipment used in the care of marine
mammals were twice as likely to experience a skin
To find out more about the specific
diseases mentioned on this page, click
For a PDF copy of
the survey, click here.
For a PDF copy of the entire report,
[ Home ] [ Background ] [ Recent Findings ] [ Safety Brochure ] [ Info for Physicians ] [ Links ] [ References ]