In this newsletter: wildlife veterinarians rescue entangled sea lions, new study on how harbor seals get brucellosis, spotlight on Science Advisor Dr. Christine Kreuder Johnson, Marine Science Lecture Series kicks off with a lecture on underwater mapping, and a lot of upcoming events.
Wild harbor seal (Phoca vitulina richardii) pups thermoregulate by hauling out of the water before they lose too much heat and expend too much energy. In rehabilitation, however, young
pups are housed in dry areas, but placed in pools for swims. Decreased caloric value of milk replacer means rehabilitated pups reach weaning and release weight slower than wild ones. Increased metabolic expenditure due to bathing also could prolong the time needed to raise pups to release size. Thermography, which measures surface temperature, is a promising method for studying thermoregulation in rehabilitating harbor seal pups. Previous studies in pinnipeds examined seasonal variation of body surface temperature, recovery after minor trauma, and locations of heat dumping over the body. We used thermography to study heat loss associated with standard seal rehabilitation bathing practices to see if bathing resulted in increased energy expenditure, potentially contributing to increasing time to release.
Recovery of severely declining resource stocks often leads to enforced quotas or reduced human access to those resources. Predators, however, do not recognize such restrictions and may be attracted to areas of increased prey abundances where human extraction is being limited. Such targeting by predators may reduce or retard the potential recovery of depressed stocks. In the San Juan Islands, northern Puget Sound, USA, marine reserves were implemented to recover depressed fish populations. We examine the role of harbor seals Phoca vitulina in the San Juan Islands food web. We describe the temporal and spatial variability in their diet, emphasizing species for which reserves were established (rockfish Sebastes spp.) and other important depressed stocks, including salmon Oncorhynchus spp. and Pacific herring Clupea pallasii. During winter and spring, seals primarily consumed Pacific herring, Pacific sand lance Ammodytes hexapterus, northern anchovy Engraulis mordax, and walleye pollock Theragra chalcogramma. During summer/fall, adult salmonids composed >50% of the diet and were particularly important in odd-numbered calendar years, when pink salmon O. gorbuscha spawn. Rockfish were not a primary prey species at any time of the year, suggesting that the abundance of alternative prey species may reduce predation pressure and provide a critical buffer to rockfish predation. The importance of considering increased visitation by marine predators to areas where potential prey are enhanced through restrictions on human extractions should be considered when modeling the efficacy of quotas and reduced access areas, such as marine reserves.
Bacterial cultures collected over 12 yr from stranded harbor seal (Phoca vitulina) pups and weanlings located in the North Puget Sound and San Juan Islands region of Washington were analyzed retrospectively to determine the most common pathogenic isolates and to describe their antimicrobial resistance patterns. Culture attempts (n = 58) from wounds, umbilici, ears, conjunctiva, nares, oral lesions, and feces yielded 134 pathogenic isolates that represented 17 genera. The majority of isolates were Gram-negative (n = 87; 65%) and of the tested isolates were most susceptible to amikacin (n = 76; 99%) and gentamicin (n = 76; 97%) and least susceptible to ampicillin (n = 76; 26%). Of the Gram-positive isolates tested (n = 29), all were susceptible to amoxicillin/clavulanic acid. The most frequent isolates were Escherichia coli(17%), β-hemolytic Streptococcus spp. (15%), Enterococcus spp. (11%), and Pseudomonas aeruginosa (11%), with all four exhibiting resistance to more than 50% of the antimicrobials tested. The variety of organisms isolated, the variation in either Gram-negative or Gram-positive predominance, and the multiple drug resistance patterns observed suggest that when treating stranded harbor seals, culture and sensitivity testing are warranted and that antibiotic therapy should be based on results.
Feces of harbor seals (Phoca vitulina richardsi) and hybrid glaucous-winged/western gulls (Larus glaucescens / occidentalis) from Washington State’s inland marine waters were examined for Giardia and Cryptosporidium spp. to determine if genotypes carried by these wildlife species were the same genotypes that commonly infect humans and domestic animals. Using immunomagnetic separation followed by direct fluorescent antibody detection, Giardia spp. cysts were detected in 42% of seal fecal samples (41/97). Giardia-positive samples came from 90% of the sites (9/10) and the prevalence of positive seal fecal samples differed significantly among study sites. Fecal samples collected from seal haulout sites with over 400 animals were 4.7 times more likely to have Giardia spp. cysts than samples collected at smaller haulout sites. In gulls, a single Giardia sp. cyst was detected in 4% of fecal samples (3/78). Cryptosporidium spp. oocysts were not detected in any of the seals or gulls tested. Sequence analysis of a 398 bp segment of G. duodenalis DNA at the glutamate dehydrogenase locus suggested that 11 isolates originating from seals throughout the region were a novel genotype and 3 isolates obtained from a single site in south Puget Sound were the G. duodenalis canine genotype D. Real-time TaqMan PCR amplification and subsequent sequencing of a 52 bp small subunit ribosomal DNA region from novel harbor seal genotype isolates showed sequence homology to canine genotypes C and D. Sequence analysis of the 52 bp small subunit ribosomal DNA products from the 3 canine genotype isolates from seals produced mixed sequences at could not be evaluated.