Graduation Year


Document Type

Open Access Senior Thesis

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts


Politics and International Relations

Second Department

Environmental Analysis

Reader 1

Thomas Kim

Reader 2

Branwen Williams

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Rights Information

© 2014 Nadine Lafeber


An increase in marine mammal stranding and die-off events has been observed along the California coast. The exact cause to explain for these recent events is unknown, but El Niño and harmful algal blooms are established sources for temporary decreases in marine mammal health. To determine whether El Niño could be causing and amplifying harmful algal blooms, particularly in Monterey Bay where they occur frequently, data was analyzed from the Marine Mammal Center in Sausalito, California. Data analysis focused on California sea lions (Zalophus californianus), because they have the largest data set and are directly affected by harmful blooms from domoic acid. Results indicated that El Niño events could be significantly harming California sea lions in Monterey Bay during the fall season. Because agricultural runoff is a known factor in causing harmful algal blooms and Monterey Bay experiences them consistently, online research was conducted on agricultural activity, agricultural runoff and nitrogen contamination from fertilizer in the water-sheds surrounding Monterey Bay. Nitrogen contamination from agricultural use is a prominent issue, therefore, I proposed some possible solutions, including cap and trade, a water recycling plant, and eco-certification, to minimize nitrogen’s impact on the environment and wildlife while allowing farmers to continue using nitrogen on crops.