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Diseases of Aquatic Organisms

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DAO 92:69-73 (2010)  -  DOI:

Lacaziosis in bottlenose dolphins Tursiops truncatus along the coastal Atlantic Ocean, Florida, USA

M. Elizabeth Murdoch1,*, Marilyn Mazzoil1, Stephen McCulloch1, Sarah Bechdel1, Greg O’Corry-Crowe1, Gregory D. Bossart2, John S. Reif3

1Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute at Florida Atlantic University Center for Marine Ecosystem Health – Marine Mammal Research & Conservation, 5600 US 1 North, Fort Pierce, Florida 34946, USA
2Georgia Aquarium, 225 Baker Street, Atlanta, Georgia 30313, USA
3Colorado State University, Department of Environmental and Radiological Health Sciences, Fort Collins, Colorado 80523, USA

ABSTRACT: This study represents the first systematic study of lacaziosis (lobomycosis) in bottlenose dolphins Tursiops truncatus in the Atlantic Ocean along the east-central coast of Florida, USA. Lacaziosis is a chronic infection of the skin caused by the fungus Lacazia loboi, which affects only dolphins and humans. Previous studies have shown a high prevalence (6.8 to 12.0%) of lacaziosis in resident dolphins from the adjacent Indian River Lagoon Estuary (IRL), where the disease is endemic. We examined the prevalence of lacaziosis in this coastal area using photo-identification data collected between 2002 and 2008 to determine the prevalence of lacaziosis in coastal dolphins using photographic methodology shown to have high sensitivity and specificity in prior research. The prevalence of skin lesions compatible with lacaziosis estimated from photographic data was 2.1% (6/284), approximately 3 times lower than that described for the estuarine population using similar methods. To exclude potential bias introduced by differences in study duration and survey effort among areas, an 18 mo period when effort was most equal (January 2006 to June 2007) was chosen for statistical comparison. The prevalence of lacaziosis estimated from photographic data was significantly lower (3.8%: n = 6/160) in the Atlantic Ocean compared to the IRL (12.0%: n = 20/167) (risk ratio = 3.19, 95% CI 1.32 to 7.75, p < 0.01 by chi-square analysis). The lower prevalence of lacaziosis in dolphins found in the Atlantic Ocean and the overall lack of movement of dolphins between these habitats suggests that environmental conditions within the estuary may favor viability of L. loboi, and/or that immune compromise in resident estuarine dolphins is a precursor to the disease.

KEY WORDS: Bottlenose dolphin · Ecosystem health · Epidemiology · Fungal disease · Lacaziosis · Photo-identification

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Cite this article as: Murdoch ME, Mazzoil M, McCulloch S, Bechdel S, O’Corry-Crowe G, Bossart GD, Reif JS (2010) Lacaziosis in bottlenose dolphins Tursiops truncatus along the coastal Atlantic Ocean, Florida, USA. Dis Aquat Org 92:69-73.

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