Infection with Brucella spp., long known as a cause of abortion, infertility, and reproductive loss in domestic livestock, has increasingly been documented in marine mammals over the past two decades. We report molecular evidence of Brucella infection in Asian sea otters (Enhydra lutris lutris). Brucella DNA was detected in 3 of 78 (4%) rectal swab samples collected between 2004 and 2006 on Bering Island, Russia. These 78 animals had previously been documented to have a Brucella seroprevalence of 28%, markedly higher than the prevalence documented in sea otters (Enhydra lutris) in North America. All of the DNA sequences amplified were identical to one or more previously isolated Brucella spp. including strains from both terrestrial and marine hosts. Phylogenetic analysis of this sequence suggested that one animal was shedding Brucella spp. DNA with a sequence matching a Brucella abortus strain, whereas two animals yielded a sequence matching a group of strains including isolates classified as Brucella pinnipedialis and Brucella melitensis. Our results highlight the diversity of Brucella spp. within a single sea otter population.
Despite the growth in knowledge about the effects of a warming Arctic on its cold-adapted species, the mechanisms by which these changes affect animal populations remain poorly understood. Increasing temperatures, declining sea ice and altered wind and precipitation patterns all may affect the fitness and abundance of species through multiple direct and indirect pathways. Here we demonstrate previously unknown effects of rain-on-snow (ROS) events, winter precipitation, and ice tidal surges on the Arctic's largest land mammal. Using novel field data across seven years and three Alaskan and Russian sites, we show arrested skeletal growth in juvenile muskoxen resulting from unusually dry winter conditions and gestational ROS events, with the inhibitory effects on growth from ROS events lasting up to three years post-partum. Further, we describe the simultaneous entombment of 52 muskoxen in ice during a Chukchi Sea winter tsunami (ivuniq in Iñupiat), and link rapid freezing to entrapment of Arctic whales and otters. Our results illustrate how once unusual, but increasingly frequent Arctic weather events affect some cold-adapted mammals, and suggest that an understanding of species responses to a changing Arctic can be enhanced by coalescing groundwork, rare events, and insights from local people.
: Streptococcus phocae is a pathogen of marine mammals, although its pathogenicity remains poorly understood. Recovery of this bacterium from asymptomatic carriers suggests that it is an opportunistic pathogen. We investigated the role of S. phocae in naturally occurring disease and its significance as a pathogen based on postmortem investigations. Between 2007 and 2012, 1,696 whole carcasses, tissue samples, or both were submitted from the northeastern Pacific and Arctic Canada for diagnostic testing. Streptococcus phocae was cultured from phocids ( n=66), otariids ( n=12), harbor porpoises ( Phocoena phocoena; n=5), and sea otters ( Enhydra lutris; n=2). Pathologic manifestations of S. phocae-associated disease included localized, as well as systemic, inflammatory lesions with common findings of suppurative bronchopneumonia ( n=17) and bacteremia ( n=27). Lung lesions were frequently culture-positive for S. phocae, suggesting commensal colonization of the oropharynx with subsequent opportunistic infection of the respiratory tract during tissue injury, coinfection, immunosuppression, or other debilitating conditions. The presence of a positive spleen culture, and interpretations at necropsy and histopathology, were used to determine the presence of S. phocae bacteremia. Less frequent lesions that were culture positive for S. phocae included abscesses ( n=9), meningitis ( n=7), and cellulitis ( n=1). The majority of cases with S. phocae lesions featured pre-existing conditions that presumably contributed to some degree of debilitation or immunosuppression, including emaciation ( n=29), liver mercury accumulation ( n=29), trauma ( n=22), severe pulmonary or cardiovascular nematodiasis ( n=9), concurrent bacterial or viral infections ( n=8), or sarcocystosis ( n=6). These findings suggest that S. phocae could be characterized as an opportunistic pathogen, associated with debilitating conditions in stranded and rehabilitating marine mammals. Wildlife investigators can use these results to draw more definitive conclusions regarding positive S. phocae cultures during postmortem studies in marine mammals.