DOMESTIC CATS carry a parasite, Toxoplasma gondii, that has sickened dolphins found stranded in the Mediterranean Sea.
DOMESTIC CATS carry a parasite, Toxoplasma gondii, that has sickened dolphins found stranded in the Mediterranean Sea.Image: SHERI L. GIBLIN Getty Images (cat); HIROYA MINAKUCHI Getty Images (dolphin)
- Pathogens from people, cats and other land animals are entering the oceans and attacking sea mammals. A parasite from opossums is killing California sea otters; a parasite from cats is killing dolphins.
- Although data are still new, these “pollutagens” seem to be on the rise. Furthermore, drug-resistant bacteria from humans have been found in sharks and seals, raising the chance that the bugs could mutate and reinfect humans, who might be ill equipped to fight them.
- Thoroughly cleansing wastewater and expanding wetlands that buffer land from sea could lessen the pollutagen threat.
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The detective story had begun, as they always do, with a ringing phone. A biologist was on the line. He had found a corpse. A few days later he called a second time, having found another. Soon the calls were coming “again and again,” Melissa A. Miller recalls. “At the hıghest point, we were getting four a day.” As the bodies piled up, so did the questions.
Miller is a wildlife pathologist and veterinarian. The dead were California sea otters, a threatened subspecies of sea otter that today numbers fewer than 2,800 along the state's central coast. In all, more than 40 sick and dying otters washed ashore during that terrible April 2004 episode—an astounding number in such a short time.
This article was originally published with the title How Kitty is Killing the Dolphins.