Sea otters in California – 03/05/2006

  • November 23, 2013 at 2:01 pm #1147

    Hi Folks
    Lets think about this, okay?
    (quote)”Parasites from cat feces are causing deadly brain damage in
    California sea otters. A combination of toxic chemicals “

    Can anyone say aerosol spraying?

    Pass the word and raise awareness at every opportunity.
    Best to all,

    Marine Mammals Contract Human Diseases
    Thursday, February 23, 2006
    By Bjorn Carey

    ST. LOUIS — Parasites from cat feces are causing deadly brain damage
    in California sea otters. A combination of toxic chemicals and
    herpes virus is killing off California sea lions.

    All of these animals live near coastlines, spending a majority of
    their lives in the same waters people swim and surf in. Their daily
    cuisines consist of the same foods we serve up in clam shacks and
    fine seafood restaurants.

    The difference between humans and these animals, says NOAA
    spokesperson Paul Sandifer, is that the animals deal with the ocean
    conditions, good or bad, full time. People can pick and choose when
    to go into the water and what to eat.

    As a result, marine animals, particularly mammals, play an important
    role as sentinel species. When one of these species gets sick or
    dies from something in the water, it is often a warning to humans of
    disease to come.

    “Some of what we throw or flow into the water will return to bite us
    in the gluteus maximus. You can bet on it,” said Sandifer, who
    organized a panel of marine scientists to present their work here
    last week at the annual meeting of the American Association for the

    Red Tide

    The red tide algae blooms that turn waters off Florida’s coast rust-
    colored are becoming more frequent. Karenia brevis algae,
    responsible for red tide, produce toxins called brevetoxins, which
    can kill fish, sea turtles, birds, and marine mammals such as

    The toxins seem to be sending more people to emergency rooms, too,
    said Gregory Bossart of the Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institution.
    In 2005, 151 manatees died from exposure to brevetoxin. Post-mortem
    examinations revealed that the stuff was affecting their lungs.
    “The animals are actually hemorrhaging into their lungs,” Bossart
    said. “They’re dying of acute toxic shock.”

    Airborne brevetoxins, Bossart said, can affect human respiratory
    systems the same way as a bad cold. A five-year study revealed that
    emergency room admissions for respiratory illness, including
    pneumonia and asthma attacks, increase by 54 percent during red tide

    “While the toxin may not kill you, it will make you sick and immuno-
    suppressed. It may make you susceptible to other infections,”
    Bossart said. “What’s disturbing is that humans appear to respond to
    prolonged brevetoxin exposure in a way similar to manatees that die
    from it.”

    Bossart recently published evidence that algae blooms may be of
    danger to humans and marine animals even after they disappear.
    Brevetoxins collect in filter-feeding shellfish. Within hours of
    ingesting shellfish with high levels of the toxin, humans can
    experience temporary neurotoxic shellfish poisoning (NSP). Symptoms
    of NSP include nausea and diarrhea, dizziness, muscle aches, and
    tingling and numbness in the tongue, lips, throat, and extremities.
    Currently, scientists only monitor shellfish during a bloom. But
    Bossart discovered that the concentration of brevetoxins in the
    water and in sea grass continued to increase months after blooms

    “After the bloom, the toxins persist in some of the same food items
    that we eat,” Bossart told LiveScience.

    Deadly Cat Poop

    A deadly parasite that’s the third most common cause of death due to
    food-borne disease in the U.S. is also killing California sea otters
    at a rapid rate.

    Toxoplasma gondii, which causes the disease toxoplasmosis in humans,
    has been found in 52 percent of dead otters and 37 percent of the

    The parasites are tiny, mysterious, and tough, said Pat Conrad of
    the University of California at Davis. They can invade an organism
    and stay dormant for years. When the opportunity presents itself,
    they will emerge from their dormant form and attack the animal’s

    In otters, the parasite causes tremors, incoordination, and
    seizures. It is the primary cause of death in some coastal otter

    “Some rescued otters need to be hand fed squid, their tremors are so
    bad,” Conrad said.

    Thanks, Kitty

    But, Toxoplasma gondii can only reproduce in cats, which shed the
    parasites in their feces. Although cats will only shed new parasites
    once in a lifetime, millions come out at once.

    This happens on land and in kitty litter boxes, though, so how are
    coastal otter populations becoming infected?

    Conrad says the major culprit is freshwater runoff, which washes
    feces from backyards, streets, and illegally dumped kitty litter
    into streams, rivers, and ultimately the ocean. Indeed, Conrad’s
    studies have indicated that infection risk potential for otters
    living near freshwater runoff increases three times. For the otters
    of Morro Bay, the risk is more than nine times increased.

    Cat owners should try to keep their kitties indoors and to properly
    dispose of kitty litter at a landfill to reduce the risk of
    spreading parasites, Conrad said. She also notes that eco-friendly,
    flushable kitty litter may contribute to the problem since sewage
    treatment systems do not effectively eliminate the parasite from

    Scientists estimate that up to 25 percent of the U.S. population may
    be infected with this same parasite, but people rarely show
    symptoms. If they do, it might just appear as a flu-like illness.

    Pregnant women infected with the parasite can pass it on to their
    developing babies, increasing the chance of an abortion or
    miscarriage. If a baby survives, it could have severe brain damage
    that may or may not be evident at birth.

    Of the infected otters, 72 percent harbor a parasite strain not seen
    often in humans. Otters cannot pass the parasite to humans, but
    because of their chronic exposure, they act as an early warning for

    Sea Lion Cancer

    For California sea lions, a combination of persistent organic
    pollutants (POPs) and herpes virus similar to the one that infects
    humans has led to an increase in cancer.

    Over the past 15 years, 17 percent of dead and stranded sea lions
    have been diagnosed with urogenital cancer, striking females in the
    cervix and males in the penis and prostate.

    The cancer spreads to other organ systems in sea lions the same as
    in humans. Eventually it erodes the spinal cord, paralyzing them and
    causing them to wash up on the shore or strand in the open water,
    said Frances Gulland of the Marine Mammal Center.

    Many adult sea lions also have the herpes virus—up to 43 percent of
    males and 23 percent of females. The higher rate for males is
    because it is a sexually transmitted disease, Gulland said, and
    males have more sexual partners.

    But, since some herpes-infected animals are without cancer, Gulland
    suspects that POPs, which can cause cancer on their own, are teaming
    up with the virus to increase cancer rates.

    While POPs are in the water, sea lions are exposed to them mainly
    through the food they eat, in which the toxic chemicals accumulate.
    “These are top level predators,” Gulland said. “Like us, they eat
    anchovies, squid, salmon, and mussels — they are sentinels for human
    health because they share our ecosystems and prey. We may see
    impacts in sea lions before people — they could be an early warning.”

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