Little is known about herpesviruses in Canadian pinnipeds. We measured prevalence of antibodies to herpesviruses in the sera from Canadian phocid seals by an indirect enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay. Wild harbor seals (Phoca vitulina) and captive harbor seals were positive for antibodies to Phocid herpesvirus 1 (PhoHV-1) at prevalences of 91% and 100%, respectively. Sera from wild hooded seals (Cystophora cristata), harp seals (Pagophilus groenlandica), and grey seals (Halichoerus grypus) were positive for antibodies to PhoHV-1 antigenically related herpesvirus antigens at 73%, 79%, and 96%, respectively. We isolated new herpesviruses in cell culture from two hunter-harvested ringed seals (Pusa hispida) in poor body condition from Ulukhaktok, Northwest Territories, Canada; one lethargic hooded seal from the St. Lawrence Estuary, Québec, Canada; and one captive, asymptomatic harp seal from the Magdalen Islands, Québec. Partial sequencing of the herpesvirus DNA polymerase gene revealed that all four virus isolates were closely related to PhoHV-2, a member of the Gammaherpesvirinae subfamily, with nucleotide similarity ranging between 92.8% and 95.3%. The new seal herpesviruses were genetically related to other known pinniped herpesviruses, such as PhoHV-1, Otariid herpesvirus 3, Hawaiian monk (Monachus schauinslandi) seal herpesvirus, and Phocid herpesvirus 5 with 47–48%, 55%, 77%, and 70–77% nucleotide similarities, respectively. The harp seal herpesvirus and both ringed seal herpesviruses were almost identical to each other, whereas the hooded seal herpesvirus was genetically different from the three others (92.8% nucleotide similarity), indicating detection of at least two novel seal herpesviruses. These findings are the first isolation, partial genome sequencing, and identification of seal gammaherpesviruses in three species of Canadian phocid seals; two species of which were suspected of exposure to one or more antigenically related herpesviruses based on serologic analyses.
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Vol. 52 • No. 1