Sealaska Heritage

NEWS_SHI to sponsor lecture on effects of mercury on humans, marine mammals

<<back to news page


Free event to be offered in-person, virtually

August 24, 2023

(About the Lecturer)

Sealaska Heritage Institute (SHI) will sponsor a lecture next week on the approaches to assessing exposure of humans to mercury, and exposure and potential effects in select marine mammals. This will be conducted in an Oceans and Human Health context, or One Health.

In his lecture, Coastal Community One Health: Mercury in Subsistence Foods, Dr. Todd O’Hara will review the current understanding of mercury in marine ecosystems and implications for human exposure in Alaska and Mexico. He will highlight gaps in our understanding that need further study, especially some subsistence foods in Southeast Alaska.

Working closely with Indigenous communities, O’Hara has done extensive studies on nutrients and contaminants of marine diets (fish, wildlife, and humans), including through chemical analyses of hair.

“We have advanced understanding of dietary pathways of mercury and other contaminants exposure in fish consumers, including humans, and potential adverse effects in pinnipeds, such as sea lions and seals,” he wrote.

He will highlight the need for professional and scientific assessments of contaminants in some subsistence foods not currently covered by regulatory agencies.

The community-based research was done under the umbrella of One Health, a collaborative, multisectoral and transdisciplinary approach that recognizes the connection between the health of people, animals, and the environment.

The lecture is scheduled for 12 pm, Tuesday, August 29, in Shuká Hít within SHI’s Walter Soboleff Building, 105 S. Seward St. in Juneau. The lecture will be livestreamed and posted on SHI’s YouTube channel. 

About the Lecturer

Dr. Todd O’Hara joined Texas A&M University as professor and department head of Veterinary Integrative Biosciences (VIBS) with the School of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences (VMBS) in January 2020. Professor O’Hara started the Bilingual Laboratory of Toxicology (BLT) in close association with the Trace Elements Research Laboratory (TERL) run by Dr. Robert Taylor. Dr. O’Hara was in Alaska from 1995 through 2019 as professor of Veterinary Pharmacology and Toxicology at the University of Alaska Fairbanks (2004 through 2019) and research biologist for the Department of Wildlife Management, North Slope Borough, Alaska (1995 through 2003). He remains on the faculty at the University of Alaska Fairbanks and has a home there. His major interests are environmental/wildlife toxicology, zoonotic diseases, food security and wildlife conservation and medicine in a One Health context including assessment of mercury exposure in people of Mexico and Alaska. Dr. O’Hara’s academic training includes a D.V.M. [University of Wisconsin - Madison, School of Veterinary Medicine (1988 - 1992)], a Ph.D. in Pharmacology/ Toxicology [Medical College of Virginia (1985-1988)], and a B.S. and M.S. in Biology [Villanova University (1979-1985)].

Sealaska Heritage Institute is a private nonprofit founded in 1980 to perpetuate and enhance Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian cultures of Southeast Alaska. Its goal is to promote cultural diversity and cross-cultural understanding through public services and events. SHI also conducts social scientific and public policy research that promotes Alaska Native arts, cultures, history and education statewide. The institute is governed by a Board of Trustees and guided by a Council of Traditional Scholars, a Native Artist Committee and a Southeast Regional Language Committee.

CONTACT: Kathy Dye, SHI Communications and Publications Deputy Director, 907.321.4636,

Caption: Photo of seal in Southeast Alaska by Heather Holt, courtesy of Sealaska Heritage Institute. Note: Media outlets are welcome to use this image for coverage of this story. For a high-resolution version, contact