Seasick: Dead Sea Otters, the Canaries in a Coal Mine of 'Sick Seas'

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Common Dreams

Seasick: Dead Sea Otters, the Canaries in a Coal Mine of 'Sick Seas'

Changing temperatures increase invasive parasites: marine life, humans at risk

by
Common Dreams staff

This weekend, marine mammal experts revealed alarming new evidence that seals, otters, and many other marine species around the world are becoming increasingly infected by parasites and other diseases common in goats, cows, cats, and dogs, due to changing water temperatures, dramatic shifts in the ocean ecosystem, and human coastal development among other factors.

Dead sea mammals have been washing ashore at alarming rates because of these foreign parasites, which, as scientists state, may become increasingly dangerous for humans. Federal funding for such investigations has recently been cut in the US and Canada.

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Agence France-Presse reports:

When dead sea mammals started washing ashore on Canada's west coast in greater numbers, marine biologist Andrew Trites was distressed to find that domestic animal diseases were killing them.

Around the world seals, otters and other species are increasingly infected by parasites and other diseases long common in goats, cows, cats and dogs, marine mammal experts told a major science conference.

The diseases also increasingly threaten people who use the oceans for recreation, work or a source of seafood, scientists told reporters at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, held this year in this Western Canadian city.

The symposium "Swimming in Sick Seas" was one of many sessions at this year's AAAS that drew a bleak picture of the state of the world's oceans, which are increasingly acidic, warming in some areas and being inundated with melting ice or other climate change effects. [...]

According to [Andrew Trite, director of the Marine Mammal Research Unit], at the Fisheries Center at University of British Columbia, the bodies washing ashore are a grim signal.

"I see the dead mammals coming ashore as canaries in a coal mine," said Trite.

Parasites, funguses, viruses and bacteria are increasingly passed from land to sea animals because human settlements on coastlines changes water patterns through paving, filling of wetlands that are natural filters, and intensive agriculture run-off, said scientists.

Toxoplasma gondii (sometimes called kitty litter disease), round-worm, single-celled parasites that cause brain swelling and disease that cause cows to abort their fetuses add to the challenges marine animals face from human pollution, Trite said. [...]

Changes in disease and frequency in sea animals "could have unrecognized impacts on humans as well," said Melissa Miller, a veterinarian in California. "We live in the same areas, and harvest and eat many of the same foods."

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The Vancouver Sun reports:

The disturbing discovery comes as federal funding for such investigations is drying up. "Funding in the U.S. and Canada has been cut for all marine mammal surveillance work," [Stephen Raverty, a veterinary pathologist] said.

That could mean a dramatic decline in the recovery of stranded marine mammals and post-mortem examinations, which are funded by Ottawa [...]

"I understand budgets have to be balanced, but it's [important] to make people aware of what's happening and the potential impact on our ability to pursue these investigations."

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