DAO 81:13-38 (2008)  -  doi:10.3354/dao01936

Victims or vectors: a survey of marine vertebrate zoonoses from coastal waters of the Northwest Atlantic

Andrea L. Bogomolni1, Rebecca J. Gast1, Julie C. Ellis2, Mark Dennett1, Katie R. Pugliares3, Betty J. Lentell4, Michael J. Moore1,*

1Biology Department, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Woods Hole, Massachusetts 02543, USA
2Tufts University, Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine, 200 Westboro Road, North Grafton, Massachusetts 01536, USA
3Cape Cod Stranding Network, a project of IFAW, 290 Summer Street, Yarmouthport, Massachusetts 02675, USA
4National Marine Fisheries Service, Northeast Fisheries Observer Program, 166 Water Street, Woods Hole, Massachusetts 02543, USA
*Corresponding author. Email:

ABSTRACT: Surveillance of zoonotic pathogens in marine birds and mammals in the Northwest Atlantic revealed a diversity of zoonotic agents. We found amplicons to sequences from Brucella spp., Leptospira spp., Giardia spp. and Cryptosporidium spp. in both marine mammals and birds. Avian influenza was detected in a harp seal and a herring gull. Routine aerobic and anaerobic culture showed a broad range of bacteria resistant to multiple antibiotics. Of 1460 isolates, 797 were tested for resistance, and 468 were resistant to one or more anti-microbials. 73% (341/468) were resistant to 1–4 drugs and 27% (128/468) resistant to 5–13 drugs. The high prevalence of resistance suggests that many of these isolates could have been acquired from medical and agricultural sources and inter-microbial gene transfer. Combining birds and mammals, 45% (63/141) of stranded and 8% (2/26) of by-caught animals in this study exhibited histopathological and/or gross pathological findings associated with the presence of these pathogens. Our findings indicate that marine mammals and birds in the Northwest Atlantic are reservoirs for potentially zoonotic pathogens, which they may transmit to beachgoers, fishermen and wildlife health personnel. Conversely, zoonotic pathogens found in marine vertebrates may have been acquired via contamination of coastal waters by sewage, run-off and agricultural and medical waste. In either case these animals are not limited by political boundaries and are therefore important indicators of regional and global ocean health.

KEY WORDS: Zoonosis · Vertebrate · Northwest Atlantic · Pinniped · Cetacean · Bird

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Cite this article as: Bogomolni AL, Gast RJ, Ellis JC, Dennett M, Pugliares KR, Lentell BJ, Moore MJ (2008) Victims or vectors: a survey of marine vertebrate zoonoses from coastal waters of the Northwest Atlantic. Dis Aquat Org 81:13-38

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