The California sea lion (Zalophus californianus), a permanent inhabitant of the Gulf of California in Mexico, is susceptible to pathogenic Leptospira spp. infection, which can result in hepatic and renal damage and may lead to renal failure and death. During summer 2013, we used the microscopic agglutination test (MAT) to investigate the prevalence of anti-Leptospira antibodies in blood of clinically healthy sea lion pups from seven rookery islands on the Pacific Coast of Baja California (Pacific Ocean) and in the Gulf of California. We also used PCR to examine blood for Leptospira DNA. Isolation of Leptospira in liquid media was unsuccessful. We found higher antibody prevalence in sea lions from the rookery islands in the gulf than in those from the Pacific Coast. Antibodies against 11 serovars were identified in the Gulf of California population; the most frequent reactions were against serovars Bataviae (90%), Pyrogenes (86%), Wolffi (86%), Celledoni (71%), and Pomona (65%). In the Pacific Ocean population, MAT was positive against eight serovars, where Wolffi (88%), Pomona (75%), and Bataviae (70%) were the most frequent. Serum samples agglutinated with more than one Leptospira serovar. The maximum titer was 3,200. Each island had a different serology profile, and islands combined showed a distinct profile for each region. We detected pathogenic Leptospira DNA in 63% of blood samples, but we found no saprophytic Leptospira. Positive PCR results were obtained in blood samples with high and low MAT titers. Together, these two methods enhance the diagnosis and interpretation of sea lion leptospirosis. Our results may be related to human activities or the presence of other reservoirs with which sea lions interact, and they may also be related to sea lion stranding.
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Vol. 52 • No. 2