In vitro assays were developed for studies concerning the functioning of the immune system of the harbour seal (Phoca vitulina). Proliferative responses of peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMC) were measured after stimulation with different concentrations of the mitogens concanavalin A (Con A), pokeweed mitogen (PWM), phytohaemagglutinin (PHA) or lipopolysaccharide from Salmonella typhimurium (LPS). Con A and PWM induced strong proliferative responses, while PHA and LPS induced comparatively low proliferative responses. Responses of mitogen stimulated PBMC to recombinant human interleukin-2 (rhIL-2) and in vitro immunoglobulin production by mitogen stimulated PBMC were measured to discriminate between stimulation of T cells and B cells. It was found that Con A and PHA stimulate phocine T cells, PWM stimulates both T cells and B cells and LPS predominantly stimulates phocine B cells. Antigen-specific immune responses were measured after immunization of seals with an inactivated rabies vaccine and/or with tetanus toxoid. Antigen-specific proliferation of PBMC and the presence of antigen-specific antibody forming cells were demonstrated for both antigens in the PBMC of immunized animals. The responses measured in vitro correlated well with the development of specific serum antibody titers to these antigens.