Toxoplasma gondii infection in marine mammals is intriguing and indicative of contamination of the ocean environment and coastal waters with oocysts. In previous serological surveys, >90% of bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) from the coasts of Florida, South Carolina, and California had antibodies to T. gondii by the modified agglutination test (MAT). In the present study, attempts were made to isolate T. gondii from dead T. truncatus. During 2005, 2006, and 2007, serum or blood clot, and tissues (brain, heart, skeletal muscle) of 52 T. truncatus stranded on the coasts of South Carolina were tested for T. gondii. Antibodies to T. gondii (MAT 1:25 or higher) were found in 26 (53%) of 49 dolphins; serum was not available from 3 animals. Tissues (heart, muscle, and sometimes brain) of 32 dolphins (26 seropositive, 3 seronegative, and 3 without accompanying sera) were bioassayed for T. gondii in mice, or cats, or both. Tissues of the recipient mice were examined for T. gondii stages. Feces of recipient cats were examined for shedding of T. gondii oocysts, but none excreted oocysts. Toxoplasma gondii was isolated from hearts of the 3 dolphins (2 with MAT titers of 1:200, and 1 without accompanied serum) by bioassay in mice. Genotyping of these 3 T. gondii isolates (designated TgDoUs1-3) with the use of 10 PCR-RFLP markers (SAG1, SAG2, SAG3, BTUB, GRA6, c22-8, c29-2, L358, PK1, and Apico) revealed 2 genotypes. Two of the 3 isolates have Type II alleles at all loci and belong to the clonal Type II lineage. One isolate has a unique genotype. This is the first report of isolation of viable T. gondii from T. truncatus.

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