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Diseases of Aquatic Organisms

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DAO 137:131-144 (2019)  -  DOI: https://doi.org/10.3354/dao03421

Pathological findings and survey for pathogens associated with reproductive failure in perinatal Steller sea lions Eumetopias jubatus

J. A. Esquible1, K. Burek-Huntington2, S. Atkinson3,*, A. C. Klink4, E. Bortz4, T. A. Goldstein5, K. Beckmen6, K. Pabilonia7, R. Tiller8

1College of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences, University of Alaska Fairbanks, 107 Alex Hately, Bethel, AK 99559, USA
2Alaska Veterinary Pathology Services, 23834 The Clearing Dr, Eagle River, AK, 99577
3College of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences, University of Alaska Fairbanks, 17101 Pt. Lena Loop, Juneau, AK 99801, USA
4Department of Biological Sciences, University of Alaska Anchorage, 3211 Providence Drive, Anchorage, AK 99508, USA
5Karen C. Drayer Wildlife Health Center, University of California Davis, School of Veterinary Medicine, Davis, CA 95616, USA
6Alaska Department of Fish & Game, Division of Wildlife Conservation, 1300 College Road, Fairbanks, AK 99701, USA
7College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, Colorado State University, 2450 Gillette Drive, Fort Collins, CO 80523, USA
8Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1600 Clifton Rd NE, Atlanta, GA 30333, USA
*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: Steller sea lions (SSLs) Eumetopias jubatus experienced a population decline in the 1960s, leading to the listing of the western stock as endangered and the eastern stock as threatened under the US Endangered Species Act. A decrease of births in the western stock beginning in the late 1960s indicates that reproductive failure may have contributed to the decline. We evaluated the role pathogens play in spontaneous abortions, premature births and neonatal deaths in SSLs. Archived tissues from carcasses (n = 19) collected in Alaska from 2002 to 2015 were tested by PCR for Coxiella burnetii, Brucella spp., Chlamydia and morbilliviruses. Animals examined included 47% premature pups, 32% aborted fetuses, 11% neonates and 11% intrauterine fetuses. Gross necropsy and histology findings were summarized in the context of the PCR findings. Tissues were negative for Chlamydia and C. burnetii. Brucella spp. were detected in the lung tissues of 3 animals, including 1 positive for the ST27 strain, the first detection of Brucella spp. DNA in SSLs. Phocine distemper virus was detected in 3 animals in 2 skin lesions and 1 placenta by hemi-nested diagnostic qRT-PCR. Both skin and the placental lesions had vesiculoulcerative changes, and 1 skin lesion contained inclusion bodies in syncytia and upon histologic examination, suggesting that the lesions may be associated with an infection reminiscent of phocine distemper virus, the first in SSLs. We highlight the continuing need for disease surveillance programs to improve our understanding of the prevalence and potential population impacts of these infectious disease agents for pinnipeds in Alaskan waters.


KEY WORDS: Eumetopias jubatus · Steller sea lion · Reproductive failure · Brucella spp. · Morbillivirus · Coxiella burnetii · Chlamydia · Alaska


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Cite this article as: Esquible JA, Burek-Huntington K, Atkinson S, Klink AC and others (2019) Pathological findings and survey for pathogens associated with reproductive failure in perinatal Steller sea lions Eumetopias jubatus. Dis Aquat Org 137:131-144. https://doi.org/10.3354/dao03421

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