Researchers say St. Lawrence River beluga whales that are already dealing with a host of threats in their environment have yet another problem to contend with — this one likely caused by the common house cat.
Toxoplasmosis is an increasingly prevalent disease affecting a wide range of marine mammals, and the only definitive hosts of the parasite that causes it are felines — both wild and domesticated.
Stéphane Lair of the Université de Montreal’s faculty of veterinary medicine and one of the study authors says of 34 beluga whale carcasses examined between 2009 and 2012, 44 per cent were found to contain the parasite.
He says marine animals have long been in contact with the feline-transmitted parasite, but the growth in the population of domestic cats appears to be taking a toll on the endangered belugas.
Lair says ensuring cat feces is not flushed into sewers could reduce levels of the parasite. On its own, it is not believed to be fatal, but it weakens the whales’ health.
The research was published in Diseases of Aquatic Organisms this month.
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