Fire, Spencer

Assistant Professor
Biological Sciences

Personal Overview

My research program combines an interest in the very smallest and the very largest organisms in the sea (and occasionally a few in between).   From single-celled marine algae (phytoplankton) to shellfish, finfish, sea turtles, humans and marine mammals such as baleen whales, the interactions between these organism can tell us much about the status of our oceans' health.  My current research focuses on the impacts of harmful algal blooms and their toxins on marine food webs and the health of sentinel organisms such as marine mammals. To carry out this work, my students and I focus on 3 core areas:

1) Developing and using molecular detection methods to investigate how natural contaminants move through marine food webs,

2) Drawing on field experience with small cetaceans and pinnipeds, as well as knowledge of field survey methods, to study marine mammal health and behavior in the wild,

3) Combining a knowledge of large-scale oceanographic processes with laboratory and field methods to study changing marine ecosystems and their links to wildlife and human health.

Educational Background

Ph.D., Ocean Sciences, University of California Santa Cruz (2007)

M.S., Marine Science, University of California Santa Cruz (2002)

B.S., Zoology, Brigham Young University (2000)

Current Courses

Mammalian Physiology - BIO 3210

Aplied Physiology - BIO 5210

Biology of Marine Mammals - BIO 4641

Topics in Ecology: Marine Mammology - BIO 5510-02

Topics in Ecology: Wildlife Toxicology - BIO 5510-03

Professional Experience

Research Scientist, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commmission (2014)

Biological Oceanographer, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (2006–2014)

Adjunct Faculty, Department of Natural Sciences, Manatee Community College (2006)

Research Associate, Sarasota Dolphin Research Program/Mote Marine Laboratory (2003–2006)

Selected Publications

Fire SE, Adkesson MJ, Wang Z, Jankowski G, Cárdenas-Alayza S, Broadwater M. Peruvian fur seals (Arctocephalus australis ssp.) and South American sea lions (Otaria byronia) in Peru are exposed to the harmful algal toxins domoic acid and okadaic acid. Marine Mammal Science (in press). 

Colegrove KM, Venn-Watson S, Litz J, Kinsel MJ, Terio KA, Fougeres E, Ewing R, Pabst DA, McLellan WA, Raverty S, Saliki J, Fire SE, Rappucci G, Bowen-Stevens S, Noble L, Costidis A, Barbieri M, Field C, Smith S, Carmichael RH, Chevis C, Hatchett W, Shannon D, Tumlin M, Lovewell G, McFee W, Rowles TK (2016). Fetal distress and in utero pneumonia in perinatal dolphins during the Northern Gulf of Mexico unusual mortality event. Diseases of Aquatic Organisms 119(1):1-16.

Bogomolni AL, Bass AL, Fire SE, Jasperse L, Levin M, Nielsen O, Waring G, and De Guise S (2016). Saxitoxin increases phocine distemper virus replication upon in-vitro infection in harbor seal immune cells. Harmful Algae 51:89–96.

Wilson C, Sastre AV, Hoffmeyer M, Rowntree VJ, Fire SE, Santinelli NH, Díaz-Ovejero S, D’Agostino V, Marón CF, Doucette GJ, Broadwater MH, Wang Z, Montoya N, Seger J, Adler FR, Sironi M, Uhart MM (2015). Southern right whale (Eubalaena australis) calf mortality at Península Valdés, Argentina: are harmful algal blooms to blame? Marine Mammal Science 32(2):423-451.

Venn-Watson S, Colegrove KM, Litz J, Kinsel M, Fougeres E, Mase B, Terio K, Saliki J, Fire SE, Stratton E, Carmichael R, Solangi M, Smith S, Tumlin M, Ewing R, Fauquier D, Lovewell G, Rotstein D, McFee W, Whitehead H, Rowles T (2015). Adrenal gland and lung lesions in Gulf of Mexico common bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) found dead following the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. PLoS ONE 10(5): e0126538.

Fire SE, Flewelling L, Stolen M, Noke Durden W, de Wit M, Spellman A, Wang Z (2015). A brevetoxin-associated mass mortality event of bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) and Florida manatees (Trichechus manatus latirostris) along the east coast of Florida. Marine Ecology Progress Series. 526:241-251. 

Litz JA, Baran MA, Bowen-Stevens SR, Carmichael RH, Colegrove KM, Garrison LP, Fire SE, Fougeres EM, Hardy R, Holmes S, Jones W, Mase-Guthrie BE, Odell DK, Rosel PE, Saliki JT, Shannon DK, Shippee SF, Smith SM, Stratton EM, Tumlin MC, Whitehead HR, Worthy GAJ, Rowles TK (2014). Review of historical unusual mortality events (UMEs) in the Gulf of Mexico (1990-2009): Providing context for the multi-year northern Gulf of Mexico cetacean UME declared in 2010. Diseases of Aquatic Organisms 112(2):161-175.

Hattenrath-Lehmann TK, Marcoval MA, Berry DL, Fire SE, Wang Z, Morton SL, Gobler CJ (2013). The emergence of Dinophysis acuminata blooms and DSP toxins in shellfish in New York waters. Harmful Algae 26:33–44 

International Atomic Energy Agency (2013). Detection of harmful algal toxins using the radioligand receptor binding assay: A manual of methods. Bottein Dechraoui M-Y, Cruz L, Darius HT, Descroix-Comanducci F, Doucette GJ, Fire SE, Gerardo-Abaya J, Leighfield TA, Mikulski TM, Sombrito E, Van Dolah FM (eds.). IAEA Technical Document IAEA-TECDOC-1729, International Atomic Energy Agency, Vienna, Austria.

Fire SE, Pruden J, Couture D, Wang Z, Dechraoui Bottein MY, Haynes BL, Knott T, Bouchard D, Lichtenwalner A, Wippelhauser G (2012). Saxitoxin exposure in endangered fish stocks: association of a shortnose sturgeon Acipenser brevirostrum mortality event with a harmful algal bloom in Maine. Marine Ecology Progress Series 460:145-153.

Wilkin SM, Cordaro J, Gulland FMD, Wheeler E, Dunkin R, Sigler T, Casper D, Berman M, Flannery M, Fire SE, Wang Z, Colegrove K, Baker J (2012). An unusual mortality event of harbor porpoises (Phocoena phocoena) off central California: Increase in blunt trauma rather than an epizootic. Aquatic Mammals 38: 301-310

Twiner MJ, Flewelling LJ, Fire SE, Bowen-Stevens SR, Gaydos JK, Johnson CK, Landsberg JH, Leighfield TA, Mase-Guthrie B, Schwacke L, Van Dolah FM, Wang Z, Rowles TK (2012). Comparative analysis of three brevetoxin-associated bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops truncatus) mortality events in the Florida Panhandle region (USA). PLoS ONE 7:e42974.

Fire SE and Van Dolah FM (2012). Marine Biotoxins: Emergence of Harmful Algal Blooms as Health Threats to Marine Wildlife. In: Aguirre AA, Ostfeld RS and Daszak P (eds.), New Directions in Conservation Medicine: Applied Cases of Ecological Health, Oxford University Press, New York, p. 374-389.

Van Dolah FM, Fire SE, Leighfield TA, Doucette GJ (2012). Determination of paralytic shellfish poisoning toxins in shellfish by receptor binding assay: a collaborative study. Journal of AOAC International 95(3):795-812.

Shuler AL, Paternoster J, Brim M, Nowocin K, Tisdale T, Neller K, Cahill JA, Leighfield T, Fire SE, Wang Z, Morton S (2012). Spatial and temporal trends of the toxic diatom Pseudo-nitzschia in the southeastern United States. Harmful Algae 17:6-13.

Wang Z, Maucher-Fuquay J, Fire SE, Mikulski CM, Haynes B, Doucette GJ, Ramsdell JS (2012). Optimization of solid-phase extraction and liquid chromatography-tandem mass spectrometry for the determination of domoic acid in seawater, phytoplankton, and mammalian fluids and tissues. Analytica Chimica Acta 715:71-79.

Fire SE, Wang Z, Byrd M, Whitehead HR, Paternoster J, Morton SL (2011). Co-occurrence of multiple classes of harmful algal toxins in bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) stranding during an unusual mortality event in Texas, USA. Harmful Algae 10:330-336.

Twiner M, Fire SE, Schwacke L, Davidson L, Wang Z, Morton S, Roth S, Balmer B, Rowles T, Wells R (2011). Concurrent exposure of bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) to multiple algal toxins in Sarasota Bay, Florida, USA. PLoS ONE 6(3):e17394.

Fire SE, Wang Z, Berman M, Langlois GW, Morton SL, Sekula-Wood E, Benitez-Nelson CR (2010). Trophic transfer of the harmful algal toxin domoic acid as a cause of death in a minke whale (Balaenoptera acutorostrata) stranding in southern California. Aquatic Mammals 36(4):342-350.

Del Rio R, Bargu S, Baltz D, Fire SE, Peterson G, Wang Z (2010). Gulf menhaden (Brevoortia patronus): A potential vector of domoic acid in coastal Louisiana food webs. Harmful Algae 10(1):19-29.

Fire SE, Wang Z, Leighfield TA, Morton SL, McFee WE, McLellan WA, Litaker RW, Tester PA, Hohn AA, Lovewell G, Harms C, Rotstein DS, Barco SG, Costidis A, Sheppard B, Bossart GD, Stolen M, Durden WN, Van Dolah FM (2009). Domoic acid exposure in pygmy and dwarf sperm whales (Kogia spp.) from southeastern and mid-Atlantic U.S. waters. Harmful Algae 8:658-664.

Fire SE, Flewelling LJ, Naar J, Twiner MJ, Henry MS, Pierce RH, Gannon DP, Wang Z, Davidson L, Wells RS (2008). Prevalence of brevetoxins in prey fish of bottlenose dolphins in Sarasota Bay, Florida. Marine Ecology Progress Series 368:283-294.

Fire SE, Flewelling LJ, Wang Z, Naar J, Henry MS, Pierce RH, Wells RS (2008). Florida red tide and brevetoxins: Association and exposure in live resident bottlenose dolphins Tursiops truncatus in the eastern Gulf of Mexico, U.S.A. Marine Mammal Science 24(4):831-844.

Fire SE, Fauquier D, Flewelling LJ, Henry MS, Naar J, Pierce RH, Wells RS (2007). Brevetoxin exposure in bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) associated with Karenia brevis blooms in Sarasota Bay, Florida. Marine Biology 152(4):827-834.

Fire SE and Silver MW (2005). Domoic acid in the Santa Cruz wharf fishery. California Fish and Game 91(3):179-192.