The Wise Laboratory of Environmental and Genetic Toxicology

National Marine Mammal Cell Line Library

Overview | Obtaining Cells | Current Species | Planned Species | Tissue Set | Permit | Funding


Marine mammals are a vital resource for every coastal community. Maintaining a healthy wild population is important for coastal ecosystems and for local economies. However, our ability to protect these animals from viruses, toxins and pollution is significantly hampered by our lack of understanding of the ways these agents affect the animals. Moreover, we are unable to thoroughly investigate how these agents poison marine mammals because we have no models to study them. Investigations using whole animal models are illegal and impractical, and thus cell lines are the best model systems that would enable these investigations. However, outside of this effort few adequate marine mammal cell culture models are currently available. Thus, the long-term objective of this research is to develop a national resource of marine mammal cell lines.

Bowhead Whale

Bowhead whale; photo courtesy of Paul Hoekstra

Obtaining Cells


All investigators seeking to use marine mammal cell lines MUST have a permit to use them prior to receiving any cells.

To obtain the application to obtain cells, follow the link to this form, and send it to:

Sandra Wise, Laboratory Manager
Wise Laboratory of Environmental and Genetic Toxicology
University of Southern Maine
PO Box 9300 96 Falmouth St.
Portland, Maine 04104-9300

Current Species

The following species are currently in culture in the laboratory:

  • Bowhead whale (Baelaena mysticetus)
  • Beluga whale (Delphinapterus leucas)
    Beluga Whale

    Beluga whale
    photo courtesy of Mystic Aquarium

  • Harbor seal (Phoca vitulina)
  • California sea lion (Zapholophus californianus)
  • Steller sea lion (Eumetopias jubatus)
    Sleepy Sea Lion

    Sleepy Sea Lion
    Photo Courtesy of Mystic Aquarium<

  • Harbor porpoise (Phocoena phocoena)
  • Common dolphin (Delphinus delphis)
  • Atlantic bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops truncatus)
  • North Atlantic Right whale (Eubalaena glacialis)

Planned Species



Southern Right Whale

Southern Right Whale (Patagonia)
Photo Courtesy of David Kirstein

  • Pilot whale (Globicephala melas)
  • Fin whale (Balaenoptera physalus)
  • Minke whale (Balaenoptera acutorostrata)
  • Humpback whale (Balaenoptera novaeangliae)
  • Sei whale (Balaenoptera borealis)
  • Pygmy sperm whale (Kogia breviceps)
  • Short-finned pilot whale (Globicephala macrorhynchus)
  • False killer whale (Pseudorca crassidens)
  • Gray whale (Eschrichtius robustus) and
  • Blue whale (Balaenoptera musculus)
  • South Atlantic right whale (Eubalaena australis)
Southern right whale breeching off Patagonia

Southern right whale breeching off Patagonia
Photos Courtesy of David Kirstein

Seals and Sea Lions:

  • Harp seal (P. groenlandica)
  • Gray seal (Halichoerus grypus)
  • Hooded seal (Cystophora cristata)
  • Hawaiian monk seal (Monachus schauinslandi)
  • Bearded seal (Erignathus barbatus)
  • Ringed seal (Phoca hispida)
  • Ribbon seal (Histriophoca fasciata)
  • East Pacific harbor seal (Phoca vitulina richardsi)
  • Elephant seal (Mirounga angustirostris)
    Elephant Seal Pup and Mother

    Elephant Seal Pup and Mother (Patagonia)
    Photo Courtesy of David Kirstein

  • Northern fur seal (Callorhinus ursinus)
  • Guadalupe fur seal (Arctocephalus townsendii)

Dolphins and Porpoises:

  • Atlantic white-sided dolphin (Lagenorhynchus acutus)
  • Rough-toothed dolphin (Steno bredanensis)
  • Spinner dolphin (Stenella longirostris) and
  • Spotted dolphin (Stenella frontalis)

Dolphins Bowriding
Dolphins Bowriding Photo Courtesy of Iain Kerr

Manatee, Walrus, and Otter:

  • Florida manatee (Trichechus manatus)
  • Walrus (Odobenus rosmarus) and
  • Sea otter (Enhydra lutris)

Tissue Set

Tissue specimens are derived from animals that die during rehabilitation attempts, or in collaboration with ongoing conservation research projects. An organ set of tissues from: bronchus, dermis, gonad, liver and kidney will be obtained from each animal. Cell lines will be derived for both fibroblast and epithelial cultures. We will continue to derive cell cultures until we have a complete set from 4 animals of each species (1 adult male, 1 adult female, 1 immature male, and 1 immature female). Continuous cell lines will be derived at USM and sent to Mystic Aquarium for storage and distribution. Matching frozen and formalin-fixed tissues will be obtained from each organ when possible, with metal toxicity testing being conducted at USM.

Tissue Collection

Tissue Collection

Tissue Culture

Tissue Culture

Cell Culture

Cell Culture


The Wise laboratory is authorized by the National Marine Fisheries Service, Permit No. 1008-1637-02/MA1008750, expiration date: 10/31/2011, to obtain, possess, transfer, import and export marine mammal specimens from individuals who have legally obtained marine mammal parts for the purpose of scientific research.


The development of these cell lines was generously funded by a grant from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, National Marine Fisheries Services, Grant number NA03NMF4390398, "Establishing a National Resource of Marine Mammal Cell Lines for Toxicological, Infections Disease and Other Biomedical Research". It is currently an unfunded effort.