Between 1998 and 2014, recurrent mortality events were reported in the Dresser's subspecies of the Common Eider (Somateria mollissima dresseri) on Cape Cod, Massachusetts, US near Wellfleet Harbor. The early die-offs were attributed to parasitism and emaciation, but beginning in 2006 a suite of distinct lesions was observed concomitant with the isolation of a previously unknown RNA virus. This novel pathogen was identified as an orthomyxovirus in the genus Quaranjavirus and was named Wellfleet Bay virus (WFBV). To assess evidence of exposure to this virus in Common Eiders, we conducted a longitudinal study of the prevalence of WFBV antibodies at multiple locations from 2004–14; we collected 2,258 serum samples from six locations and analyzed each using a microneutralization assay. Results corroborate the emergence of WFBV in 2006 based on the first detection of antibodies in that year. Significantly higher prevalence was detected in Common Eiders sampled in Massachusetts compared to those in Maine, Nova Scotia, and Québec. For birds breeding and wintering in Massachusetss, viral exposure varied by age, sex, and season of sampling, and prevalence by season and sex were highly interrelated with greater numbers of antibody-positive males in the autumn and females in the spring. No evidence of viral exposure was detected in the Northern subspecies (Somateria mollissima borealis). Among the locations sampled, Massachusetts appears to be the epicenter of Common Eider exposure to WFBV. Further research is warranted to understand the factors controlling the epidemiology of WFBV in Massachussetts, including those that may be limiting geographic expansion of this virus.
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Vol. 53 • No. 1