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Diseases of Aquatic Organisms

    DAO prepress abstract   -  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. Esquible, K. Burek-Huntington, S. Atkinson*, A. C. Klink, E. Bortz, T. A. Goldstein, K. Beckmen, K. Pabilonia, R. Tiller

    *Corresponding author:

    ABSTRACT: Steller sea lions (SSL; 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 reproductive failure may have contributed to the decline. We evaluated the role pathogens play in spontaneous abortions, premature births and neonatal deaths in SSL. 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 SSL. Phocine distemper virus (PDV) 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 syncytia and upon histologic examination, suggesting the lesions may be associated with an infection reminiscent of PDV, the first in SSL. We highlight 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.