University of St Andrews
Sea Mammal Research Unit
SMRU > Research > Immunnology


The mammalian immune system is extremely complex and there is often duplication and redundancy in specific functions.  Marine mammals appear to be no different.  A healthy and comprehensive immune system is critical to the survival of all animals since they are all hosts to disease agents and parasites.  As with many other aspects of marine mammal physiology, the immune system is uniquely adapted to the marine ecosystem.  Studying immunology in marine mammals is making a huge contribution to our knowledge of the evolution of immunity in mammals as they moved from the land back into the water.


Much of our knowledge of immune function in marine mammals has been driven by an interest in the impact of persistent organic pollutants on immunity.  However, marine mammal immunity is now being studied in a much wider context and for its importance in comparative evolutionary biology where marine mammals may play a key role in increasing our understanding of the relative importance of the various arms of the immune system.


Ailsa Hall studies the links between immune function effects and contaminant exposure in grey and harbour seals; collaborates with immunologists to investigate the genetic diversity of the Major Histocompatibility Complex (particularly MHC Class I) and studies investigating how life history strategies can shape immune fitness in marine mammals.  For example she currently has a joint student investigation immunity in Galapagos sea lions.

Perturbations in immunity can affect an animal's survival probability



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