Meet the Winners:

Dr. Sarah Wright

2024 BioOne Ambassador

BioOne Ambassador Award

A Window Into the Marine Mammal Immune System: A One Health Connection

This video is in reference to:

Agreement Study between Total Leukocyte Count Methodologies in South American Sea Lions (Otaria byronia) and Peruvian Fur Seals (Arctocephalus australis)

Journal of Wildlife Diseases, 59(2): 315-321 (2023)
Sarah E. Wright, Michael J. Adkesson, Amy N. Schnelle, Matthew C. Allender, Susana Cárdenas-Alayza

Dr. Sarah Wright

Dr. Sarah Wright

A Window Into the Marine Mammal Immune System: A One Health Connection
Nominated by the Wildlife Disease Association

Dr. Sarah Wright is a zoo, wildlife, and aquatic animal veterinarian who graduated from the University of Illinois in 2020 with her DVM. She is passionate about animal and ecosystem health. Sarah uses scientific communication to connect people to the natural world. Her research focuses on aquatic animal health.

What drew you to the research topic you explored in your submission?

As a veterinary student, I worked with seals and sea lions managed under human care. I felt connected to these animals and wanted to explore how to help free-ranging seals and sea lions. I expressed my interest in a research project to help these sentinel species with the veterinary team at the Brookfield Zoo Chicago.The Brookfield Zoo Chicago veterinarians connected me to the Punta San Juan Program in Peru. The Punta San Juan Program staff shared that they had historical white blood cell count data that I could evaluate to see if there was consistency between different white blood cell counting methods. The results of this project would help establish a gold standard for white blood cell counts in seals and sea lions, which would guide future health checks for the vulnerable population at Punta San Juan.

How do you see your work contributing to public policy, citizen science, and/or science education more broadly?

I see my work with the Punta San Juan Program contributing to science education by changing how veterinarians perform health checks for these sentinel species in the future. This study showed that using the same method for the same seal or sea lion population yearly gives us the best window into an animal’s immune system and health. Performing repeat health checks on free-ranging animals in remote locations such as Punta San Juan can be challenging. We only have one opportunity to look at a seal or sea lion’s blood, and we can be sure that we have the most accurate health profile thanks to this study’s findings. This study can also inform future studies that may seek to identify trends in white blood cell count data or look at consistency in counting methods for other blood cells, such as red blood cells or platelets.

What are your continuing research goals for the future (near and/or far)? What topics, areas, subjects are you interested in exploring?

My research goals are to advance the zoo, wildlife, and aquatic animal health and welfare field. I have a manuscript under review with a peer-reviewed scientific journal about cancer in fish under human care. I also have two research projects in the manuscript preparation stages: The first explored diseases in managed populations of Oregon spotted frogs, and the second generated reference intervals for blood-gas analytes in stranded Pacific harbor seals undergoing rehabilitation. As a clinical veterinarian, I practice high-quality, evidence-based medicine. As a researcher, I am interested in exploring how to improve disease diagnosis and treatment to improve the lives of animals we share our world with.

Is there anything else you want to share about you and/or your research?

As a clinician-scientist, my research revolves around improving the medical care and welfare of both free-ranging and managed populations of animals. Research does not end when a manuscript is published as a scientific article. I strive to present my findings at scientific conferences and work with scientific journals to share my research with a broad audience with an emphasis on real-world applications. I hope that my video submission for the BioOne AmbassadorAwards communicates the clinical importance of consistent white blood cell count methods for the vulnerable seals and sea lions of Punta San Juan. My motivation for submitting this video is that the people who view it will walk away with an understanding of how my research project changes the world, which may inspire them to learn more about it and take action to help protect wildlife.


Dr. Sarah Wright

For information about the Wildlife Disease Association, please visit their website:
Wildlife Disease Association

For questions about BioOne or the BioOne Ambassador Award, please contact:
Amanda Rogers

BioOne Publishing
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