Abstract

Climate warming may affect the distribution of helminth parasites, allowing endemic species to increase in prevalence and new species to appear. We analyzed tissues from 141 ice-associated seals collected in the Alaskan (US) Bering and Chukchi seas during 2006–15 for internal helminth parasites and compared results with past studies. Specimens were collected from: ringed seals (Pusa hispida), bearded seals (Erignathus barbatus), spotted seals (Phoca largha), and ribbon seals (Histriophoca fasciata). Helminths were present in 94% (133/141) of the seals sampled. Nematodes were most prevalent in bearded (97%, 72/74) and spotted seals (93%, 13/14). Cestodes were most prevalent in bearded seals (82%, 61/74) and absent in ribbon seals, trematodes were only found in bearded (64%, 47/74) and ringed (5%, 2/44) seals, and acanthocephalans were mostly found in ringed (61%, 27/44) and spotted (64%, 9/14) seals. Although no helminths were new to the Bering-Chukchi Seas region, this study found a previously unreported host record for the lungworm Parafilaroides (Filaroides) gymnurus in a ribbon seal. We also found the lungworm Otostrongylus circumlitus in a ribbon seal and P. (F.) gymnurus in bearded seals, representing location records previously unreported from the Bering-Chukchi Seas region (although they have been reported from the Sea of Okhotsk). We found the cestode genus Pyramicocephalus in bearded seals (3%, 2/74) at a lower prevalence than was reported previously for Pyramicocephalus phocarum (44–100%) in the Bering-Chukchi Seas region. We found no species of the acanthocephalan genus Bolbosoma, although the genus was previously identified in ringed, spotted, and ribbon seals. This study yielded no new helminths and no increases in the prevalence of endemic parasites in these seal species.

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