Massive parasite infection cause of whale’s death

  • Oct. 13, 2015 11:00 a.m.

By Stacey MarpleHaida Gwaii ObserverA severe parasitic infestation is being blamed for the death of a rare Cuvier’s beaked whale found on the shores of Gwaii Hanaas in May.Results of a necropsy performed by the University of British Columbia and released last month confirmed a crassicauda worm parasite infection around the kidneys. “It had one of the worst Crassicauda infections I’ve ever seen,”PhD. student Marina Piscitelli with the University of British Columbia said.”Both kidneys were severely compromised.”This infection has been found in fin whales and could be lethal by inducing congestive renal failure. Moderate infections cause extensive injury to the vascular system.A construction crew working on the new Watchmen cabin on SGang Gwaay discovered the whale in May in a significant state of decomposition. The Department of Fisheries and Oceans accompanied Gwaii Haanas staff to the site, but did not find any obvious cause of death. Samples were taken to be studied. “We also collected some diagnostic samples for lab testing,” Ms. Piscitelli said. The adult, rare whale carcass was not the only one that had washed ashore in B.C. Another beaked whale was discovered near Tofino around the same time. At Gwaii Haanas site, the tissue was removed and the bones frozen and transported to a facility on Saltspring island where they will be composted in horse manure for one year to remove the remaining flesh and oils. The skeleton will then be reassembled and displayed as a scientific attraction in the Gwaii Haanas offices in Skidegate. Cuvier’s beaked whales are hard to spot in the wild, as they don’t make a large disturbance in the water when they surface, unlike orcas. The whales are found all around the world, but are seldom seen in B.C. waters as they spend most of their time far from shore. They hold the record for the longest, deepest dives ever recorded a marine mammal, swimming to depths of nearly three kilometres and staying underwater for more than two hours. So far it doesn’t appear the beaked whale’s death is linked to about 30 other known whale deaths in B.C. and Alaska since May. In those cases of 11 fin whales, 18 humpbacks (four in B.C)., one grey and four unidentified cetaceans are believed to have died from toxic algae, caused by what scientists have nicknamed the “Blob,” a 1,600-kilometre stretch of unusually warm water.A UBC professor said the algae contains a neurotoxin and is contaminating krill and sardines in large numbers, which the whales then eat and can die essentially of food poisoning.

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