The Galapagos sea lion (Zalophus wollebaeki) is an otariid species endemic to the Galapagos archipelago and is currently listed as endangered. The ocular trematode Philophthalmus zalophi was recently reported to affect the survival of juvenile Galapagos sea lions on Santa Cruz Island, resulting in marked ophthalmic changes. This study evaluated the ophthalmic disease and histopathologic effects of P. zalophi on juvenile Galapagos sea lions in the largest rookery located on San Cristóbal Island. Twenty juvenile Galapagos sea lions (10 male and 10 female) were evaluated among five sites in the rookery El Malecón. Ophthalmic examination, including fluorescein staining and evaluation of the adnexa, cornea, and sclera, were performed on each eye. The presence, number, and location of ocular parasites were determined, and parasites were collected for identification. Conjunctival biopsy was performed on 11 animals: 2 that lacked parasites and gross lesions and 9 with both parasites and gross lesions. All parasites collected were confirmed as P. zalophi and identified in 80% (16/20) of the study animals and 70% (28/40) of the examined eyes. Philophthalmus zalophi was most frequently found attached to the nictitating membrane but also located on the palpebral conjunctiva or cornea. The most common clinical signs were varying degrees of conjunctival hyperemia (28/40 eyes), most frequently of the nictitating membrane and mucoid ocular discharge (12/40 eyes). The number of parasites was significantly associated with the degree of conjunctival hyperemia (P < 0.001). Histopathology of conjunctival biopsies revealed organized lymphoid follicles and lymphoplasmacytic infiltrates. The histopathologic changes and gross lesions were likely due to the parasite's attachment to the conjunctiva. This study provides additional details of P. zalophi infection in juvenile Galapagos sea lions. Further research is warranted to detail the life cycle of this parasite, transmission to sea lions, and potential treatment protocols.
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