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Diseases of Aquatic Organisms

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DAO 114:45-60 (2015)  -  DOI:

Morbidity and mortality in stranded Cook Inlet beluga whales Delphinapterus leucas

Kathleen A. Burek-Huntington1,*, Jennifer L. Dushane1, Caroline E. C. Goertz2, Lena N. Measures3, Carlos H. Romero4, Stephen A. Raverty

1Alaska Veterinary Pathology Services, 23834 The Clearing Drive, Eagle River, Alaska 99577, USA
2The Alaska SeaLife Center, 301 Railway Avenue, Seward, Alaska 99664, USA
3Fisheries and Oceans Canada, Maurice Lamontagne Institute, 850, route de la mer, Mont-Joli, Québec G5H 3Z4, Canada
4Infectious Diseases and Pathology, College of Veterinary Medicine, University of Florida, Gainesville, Florida 32610, USA
5Animal Health Center, British Columbia MAL, Abbotsford, British Columbia V3G 2M3, Canada
*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: The endangered Cook Inlet (Alaska, USA) stock of beluga whales Delphinapterus leucas declined 47% between 1994 and 1998, from an estimated 653 whales to 347 whales, with a continued decline to approximately 312 in 2012. Between 1998 and 2013, 164 known dead strandings were reported by the National Marine Fisheries Service. Only 38 of these animals, or 23% of the known stranded carcasses, were necropsied. Carcasses were found between April and October. The majority of animals necropsied were adults (n = 25), followed by juveniles (n = 6), calves (n = 3), and aborted fetuses (n = 4). Eight of the 11 mature females were pregnant, post-partum, or lactating. Many (82%) of these belugas were in moderate to advanced autolysis, which hampered determination of a cause of death (COD). Each animal had a single primary COD assigned within a broad set of categories. The CODs were unknown (29%), trauma (18%), perinatal mortality (13%), mass stranding (13%), single stranding (11%), malnutrition (8%), or disease (8%). Other disease processes were coded as contributory or incidental to COD. Multiple animals had mild to moderate verminous pneumonia due to Stenurus arctomarinus, renal granulomas due to Crassicauda giliakiana, and ulcerative gastritis due to Anisakis sp. Each stranding affords a unique opportunity to obtain natural history data and evidence of human interactions, and, by long-term monitoring, to characterize pathologies of importance to individual and population health.

KEY WORDS: Cook Inlet, Alaska · Beluga whale · Delphinapterus leucas · Stranding · Mortality · Morbidity · Stenurus arctomarinus · Crassicauda giliakiana

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Cite this article as: Burek-Huntington KA, Dushane JL, Goertz CEC, Measures LN, Romero CH, Raverty SA (2015) Morbidity and mortality in stranded Cook Inlet beluga whales Delphinapterus leucas. Dis Aquat Org 114:45-60.

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