Parasites and pathogens infecting humans, pets and farm animals are increasingly being detected in marine mammals such as sea otters, porpoises, harbour seals and killer whales along the Pacific coast of the U.S. and Canada, and better surveillance is required to monitor public health implications, according to a panel of scientific experts from Canada and the United States.
UBC scientists Stephen Raverty, Michael Grigg and Andrew Trites and Melissa Miller from the California Department of Fish and Game, presented their research Feb 21 at the Annual Meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) in Vancouver, Canada.
They called for stronger collaboration among public health, coastal water policy and marine mammal health research sectors to reduce land-sea transfer of pathogens and toxins. These terrestrial sourced pollutants are killing coastal marine mammals and likely pose risks to human health.
Between 1998 and 2010, nearly 5,000 marine mammal carcasses were recovered and necropsied along the British Columbia and Pacific Northwest region of the U.S., including whales, dolphins and porpoises, sea lions and otters.
“Infectious diseases accounted for up to 40 per cent of mortalities of these marine animals,” says Stephen Raverty, a veterinary pathologist with the Animal Health Centre in the British Columbia Ministry of Agriculture and Lands, and an adjunct professor in UBC’s Marine Mammal Research Unit.
“In many cases, the diseases found in these marine mammals have similar or genetically identical agents as those infecting pets and livestock. We don’t yet know how these diseases are affecting the health of marine mammals” says Raverty.
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