Belugas Infected With Cat Parasite

Written by on February 24, 2014 in Marine Life, Whales & Dolphins

Researchers from the University of British Columbia (UBC) have found an infectious cat parasite in western Arctic Belugas, which poses risks for the Inuit people who eat whale meat.

Beluga is a major staple in the diet of the Inuit people. Photo credit: Stephen Raverty.

Beluga is a major staple in the diet of the Inuit people. Photo credit: Stephen Raverty.

The parasite, Toxoplasma gondii, is the leading cause of infectious blindness in humans. It’s not a major concern for healthy individuals, but it can be fatal to people and animals with compromised immune systems. Toxoplasmosis, or kitty litter disease, is spread mainly through consuming undercooked meat or water that has come in contact with soil contaminated by cat feces.

The Inuit’s traditional cooking methods should be enough to kill Toxoplasma, but Michael Grigg from UBC’s Marine Mammal Research Unit says that pregnant women and other vulnerable populations should be extra careful around raw meat.

Grigg explains that many pathogens are spreading as the Arctic melts, and belugas aren’t the only victims.

“Ice is a major eco-barrier for pathogens,” Grigg said in a news release. As it melts, pathogens are “gaining access to vulnerable new hosts and wreaking havoc.”

Grigg and his team also identified the Arctic parasite (Sarcocystis) responsible for the 2012 gray seal die-off. This same new strain of Sarcocystis has killed Hawaiian monk seals, walruses, polar bears, and an endangered Steller sea lion.

Beluga whale.

Beluga whale. Photo credit: mirsasha via photopin cc.

Copyright © 2014 by Marine Science Today, a publication of Marine Science Today LLC.

About the Author

About the Author: Emily Tripp is the Publisher and Editor of MarineScienceToday.com. She holds marine science and biology degrees from the University of Miami's Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science and a Master of Advanced Studies degree in Marine Biodiversity and Conservation from Scripps Institution of Oceanography. When she's not writing about marine science, she's probably running around outside or playing with her dog. .

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