The grey seal has been on the front lines of global warming. The decrease in areas once covered by arctic ice has forced the species to locate areas to both give birth to pups and raise them. Now, scientist believe that with the decreasing levels of ice, pathogens are making their way into these waters and wreaking havoc on the seal population.
On one island populated by the grey seal, the parasite Sarcocystis pinnipedi is believed to be responsible for the deaths of 1 in 5 seals or 20%. Researchers presented this conclusion at the February 13 meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Sarcocystis pinnipedi is a close relative to the Sarcocystis canis which has been known to cause encephalitis or hepatitis is canines and sicken bears.
According to Michael Grigg, a molecular parasitologist at Bethesda’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, global warming is to blame for the presence of these pathogens in the environment. Ice has long been the key to keeping these deadly pathogens from the environment and with ice melting away, parasites are making their way into the mammal population.
Nova Scotia’s Hay Island was the site of a 2012 outbreak of Sarcocystis pinnipedi that killed 406 grey seals which deaths were with only 2 exceptions all pups. Grigg said that such a death toll among the young would have a long-term impact on the future population of the island’s seal population. Recent research has shown that the parasite caused extensive damage to the seals’ liver.
In humans, the Toxoplasma parasite causes toxoplasmosis or kitty litter disease, which can result in blindness and miscarriages in humans and can kill people with weakened immune systems. It has become known as a characteristic infection in people with AIDS.
“Because this parasite can cause serious diseases in people, we need to pay attention to its emergence in the North as a new potential threat to food safety,” said Grigg.
On THe Web:
B.C. researchers identify parasite that killed 406 seals off Cape Breton in 2012