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Diseases of Aquatic Organisms

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DAO 119:17-36 (2016)  -  DOI:

Post-mortem findings in southern right whales Eubalaena australis at Península Valdés, Argentina, 2003-2012

Denise McAloose1,2,*, M. Virginia Rago2,3, Matías Di Martino2,3, Andrea Chirife2, Sarah H. Olson3, Lucas Beltramino2, Luciana M. Pozzi2,4,5, Luciana Musmeci2,4,5, Luciano La Sala2,6, Nadia Mohamed2, Juan Emilio Sala2, Lucas Bandieri2, Julian Andrejuk2, Ania Tomaszewicz1, Tracie Seimon1, Mariano Sironi2,7, Luis E. Samartino8, Victoria Rowntree2,9, Marcela M. Uhart2,3,10

1Wildlife Conservation Society Zoological Health Program, Bronx, New York 10464, USA
2Southern Right Whale Health Monitoring Program, Los Alerces 3376, Puerto Madryn, Chubut 9120, Argentina
3Wildlife Conservation Society Wildlife Health & Health Policy Program, Bronx, New York 10464, USA
4CENPAT-CONICET, Puerto Madryn, Chubut 9120, Argentina
5Fundación Patagonia Natural, Puerto Madryn, Chubut 9120, Argentina
6CONICET- Universidad Nacional del Sur, Bahía Blanca, Buenos Aires 8000, Argentina
7Instituto de Conservación de Ballenas, Buenos Aires 1429, Argentina
8Instituto Patobiologa INTA, Hurlingham, Buenos Aires 1686, Argentina
9Department of Biology, University of Utah, Salt Lake City, Utah 84112, USA
10One Health Institute, School of Veterinary Medicine, University of California, Davis, California 95616, USA
*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: Between 2003 and 2012, 605 southern right whales (SRW; Eubalaena australis) were found dead along the shores of Península Valdés (PV), Argentina. These deaths included alarmingly high annual losses between 2007 and 2012, a peak number of deaths (116) in 2012, and a significant number of deaths across years in calves-of-the-year (544 of 605 [89.9%]; average = 60.4 yr-1). Post-mortem examination and pathogen testing were performed on 212 whales; 208 (98.1%) were calves-of-the-year and 48.0% of these were newborns or neonates. A known or probable cause of death was established in only a small number (6.6%) of cases. These included ship strike in a juvenile and blunt trauma or lacerations (n = 5), pneumonia (n = 4), myocarditis (n = 2), meningitis (n = 1), or myocarditis and meningitis (n = 1) in calves. Ante-mortem gull parasitism was the most common gross finding. It was associated with systemic disease in a single 1-2 mo old calf. Immunohistochemical labeling for canine distemper virus, Toxoplasma gondii and Brucella spp., and PCR for cetacean morbillivirus (CeMV), influenza A, and apicomplexan protozoa were negative on formalin-fixed, paraffin-embedded  lung and brain samples from a subset of whales; PCR for Brucella spp. was positive in a newborn/neonate with pneumonia. Skin samples from whales with gull parasitism were PCR negative for CeMV, poxvirus, and papillomavirus. This is the first long-term study to investigate and summarize notable post-mortem findings in the PV SRW population. Consistent, significant findings within or between years to explain the majority of deaths and those in high-mortality years remain to be identified.

KEY WORDS: Argentina · Calf · Eubalaena australis · Histology · Mortality · Neonate · Península Valdés · Southern right whale

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Cite this article as: McAloose D, Rago MV, Di Martino M, Chirife A and others (2016) Post-mortem findings in southern right whales Eubalaena australis at Península Valdés, Argentina, 2003-2012. Dis Aquat Org 119:17-36.

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