The introduction of pathogens into populations of animals with no previous exposure to them and, therefore, no immunologic protection, can result in epizootics. Predicting the susceptibility of populations to infectious diseases is crucial for their conservation and management. Australian fur seals (Arctocephalus pusillus doriferus) have a relatively small population size, a restricted range, and form dense aggregations. These factors make this species vulnerable to epizootics of infectious diseases that spread by direct animal-to-animal contact. Blood samples were collected from 125 adult female Australian fur seals between 2007 and 2009 and tested for exposure to selected pathogens. The testing protocol was based on pathogens important to marine mammal health or those significant to public and livestock health. No antibodies were detected to morbilliviruses, influenza A viruses, six Leptospira serovars, Mycobacterium tuberculosis-complex species, or Toxoplasma gondii. Overall antibody prevalence to an unidentified Brucella sp. was 57% but varied significantly (P<0.02) between 2007 (74%) and 2008 (53%). The findings indicate Brucella infection may be enzootic in the Australian fur seal population. Further investigations are required to isolate the bacteria and establish if infection results in morbidity and mortality. Australian fur seals remain vulnerable to the threat of introduced disease and should be managed and monitored accordingly.
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Vol. 47 • No. 3