A longitudinal serologic survey was conducted for morbillivirus antibodies in Atlantic walruses (Odobenus rosmarus rosmarus), narwhal (Monodon monoceros), and beluga (Delphinapterus leucas) from the Northwest Territories, Nunavut and the St. Lawrence estuary (Canada). Sixty-five of 131 (50%) walruses sampled between 1984 and 1993 had detectable morbillivirus neutralizing antibodies. Positive walrus were identified from four of five Arctic sampling sites, to as far back as 1984. Prevalence of morbillivirus neutralizing antibodies in walruses from Foxe Basin ranged from a high of 76% (n = 21) in 1993 to a low of 22% (n = 28) in 1984. Limitations in sample acquisition may have produced underestimates for the 1984 data. There are no reports of clinical morbillivirus infection in walruses. Our results are consistent with the hypothesis that a morbillivirus similar or identical to phocine distemper virus (PDV) has circulated among walrus populations of the eastern Canadian Arctic, at least since the early 1980s. No narwhal (n = 79) or beluga (n = 445) from Arctic waters were identified as having antibodies to dolphin morbillivirus (DMV) above the threshold serum dilution of log2 4. Also, none of the beach-cast cetacean carcasses (n = 28) from the Gulf of St. Lawrence and the St. Lawrence estuary were positive for antibodies to DMV. This indicates that Gulf of St. Lawrence, St. Lawrence estuary, and Arctic cetaceans either have not been exposed to DMV or an antigenically related morbillivirus, or are not susceptible to infection.
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Vol. 36 • No. 3