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Lobomycosis in Atlantic bottlenose dolphins from the Indian River Lagoon, Florida

John S. ReifDivision of Marine Mammal Research and Conservation, Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institution, 5600 US 1 North, Fort Pierce, FL 34946
Department of Environmental and Radiological Health Sciences, Colorado State University, Fort Collins, CO 80523

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Marilyn S. MazzoilDivision of Marine Mammal Research and Conservation, Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institution, 5600 US 1 North, Fort Pierce, FL 34946

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Stephen D. McCullochDivision of Marine Mammal Research and Conservation, Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institution, 5600 US 1 North, Fort Pierce, FL 34946

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Rene A. VarelaDivision of Marine Mammal Research and Conservation, Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institution, 5600 US 1 North, Fort Pierce, FL 34946

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Juli D. GoldsteinDivision of Marine Mammal Research and Conservation, Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institution, 5600 US 1 North, Fort Pierce, FL 34946

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Patricia A. FairNational Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, National Ocean Service, Center for Coastal Environmental Health and Biomolecular Research, 219 Ft Johnson Rd, Charleston, SC 29142

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Gregory D. BossartDivision of Marine Mammal Research and Conservation, Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institution, 5600 US 1 North, Fort Pierce, FL 34946

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Abstract

Objective—To determine the prevalence of lobomycosis, a mycotic infection of dolphins and humans caused by a yeastlike organism (Lacazia loboi), among dolphins in the Indian River Lagoon in Florida.

Design—Cross-sectional study.

Animals—146 Atlantic bottlenose dolphins.

Procedure—Comprehensive health assessments of bottlenose dolphins in the Indian River Lagoon of Florida (n = 75) and in estuarine waters near Charleston, SC (71), were conducted during 2003 and 2004. Bottlenose dolphins were captured, examined, and released. Skin lesions were photographed and then biopsied. Tissue sections were stained with H&E and Gomori methenamine silver stains for identification of L loboi.

Results—9 of 30 (30%) dolphins captured in the southern portion of the Indian River Lagoon had lobomycosis, whereas none of the 45 dolphins captured in the northern portion of the lagoon or of the 71 dolphins captured near Charleston, SC, did. Affected dolphins had low serum alkaline phosphatase activities and high acute-phase protein concentrations.

Conclusions and Clinical Relevance—Results suggest that lobomycosis may be occurring in epidemic proportions among dolphins in the Indian River Lagoon. Localization of the disease to the southern portion of the lagoon, an area characterized by freshwater intrusion and lower salinity, suggests that exposure to environmental stressors may be contributing to the high prevalence of the disease, but specific factors are unknown. Because only dolphins and humans are naturally susceptible to infection, dolphins may represent a sentinel species for an emerging infectious disease.

Abstract

Objective—To determine the prevalence of lobomycosis, a mycotic infection of dolphins and humans caused by a yeastlike organism (Lacazia loboi), among dolphins in the Indian River Lagoon in Florida.

Design—Cross-sectional study.

Animals—146 Atlantic bottlenose dolphins.

Procedure—Comprehensive health assessments of bottlenose dolphins in the Indian River Lagoon of Florida (n = 75) and in estuarine waters near Charleston, SC (71), were conducted during 2003 and 2004. Bottlenose dolphins were captured, examined, and released. Skin lesions were photographed and then biopsied. Tissue sections were stained with H&E and Gomori methenamine silver stains for identification of L loboi.

Results—9 of 30 (30%) dolphins captured in the southern portion of the Indian River Lagoon had lobomycosis, whereas none of the 45 dolphins captured in the northern portion of the lagoon or of the 71 dolphins captured near Charleston, SC, did. Affected dolphins had low serum alkaline phosphatase activities and high acute-phase protein concentrations.

Conclusions and Clinical Relevance—Results suggest that lobomycosis may be occurring in epidemic proportions among dolphins in the Indian River Lagoon. Localization of the disease to the southern portion of the lagoon, an area characterized by freshwater intrusion and lower salinity, suggests that exposure to environmental stressors may be contributing to the high prevalence of the disease, but specific factors are unknown. Because only dolphins and humans are naturally susceptible to infection, dolphins may represent a sentinel species for an emerging infectious disease.

Contributor Notes

Address correspondence to Dr. Reif.

Conducted under National Marine Fisheries Service Permit No. 998-1678-00 issued to Dr. Gregory Bossart in March 2003. Dolphin health assessments were a collaborative effort between Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institution and the National Ocean Service, Center for Coastal Environmental and Biomolecular Research, NOAA. Figure 2 was obtained under National Marine Fisheries Service GA 32 (file No. 39).

Supported by the Florida Protect Wild Dolphins program administered by Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institution.

The authors thank Drs. David Kilpatrick and Forrest Townsend for conducting clinical examinations and lesion biopsies, Wayne McFee for age analyses of teeth, Elizabeth Murdoch for photographic support, and Larry Hansen for field coordination.