Northern sea otter (Enhydra lutris kenyoni) abundance has decreased dramatically over portions of southwest Alaska, USA, since the mid-1980s, and this stock is currently listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. In contrast, adjacent populations in south central Alaska, USA, and Russia have been stable to increasing during the same period. Sea otters bordering the area classified in the recent decline were live-captured during 2004–2006 at Bering Island, Russia, and the Kodiak Archipelago, Alaska, USA, to evaluate differences in general health and current exposure status to marine and terrestrial pathogens. Although body condition was lower in animals captured at Bering Island, Russia, than it was at Kodiak, USA, clinical pathology values did not reveal differences in general health between the two regions. Low prevalences of antibodies (>5%) were found in Kodiak, USA, and on Bering Island, Russia, to Toxoplasma gondii, Sarcocystis neurona, and Leptospira interrogans. Exposure to phocine herpesvirus-1 was found in both Kodiak, USA (15.2%), and Bering Island, Russia (2.3%). Antibodies to Brucella spp. were found in 28% of the otters tested on Bering Island, Russia, compared with only 2.7% of the samples from Kodiak, USA. Prevalence of exposure to Phocine distemper virus (PDV) was 41% in Kodiak, USA, but 0% on Bering Island, Russia. Archived sera from southwest and south-central Alaska dating back to 1989 were negative for PDV, indicating exposure occurred in sea otters in Kodiak, USA, in recent years. Because PDV can be highly pathogenic in naïve and susceptible marine mammal populations, tissues should be examined to explore the contribution of this virus to otter deaths. Our results reveal an increase in exposure to pathogens in sea otters in Kodiak, Alaska, USA, since the 1990s.
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Vol. 47 • No. 3