Pathogen surveillance in Southern Ocean pinnipeds

  • Sandra Núñez-Egido Department of Arctic and Marine Biology, UiT The Arctic University of Norway, Tromsø, Norway
  • Andrew Lowther Norwegian Polar Institute, Fram Centre, Tromsø, Norway
  • Ingebjørg H. Nymo Norwegian Veterinary Institute, Tromsø, Norway
  • Jörn Klein Department of Nursing and Health Sciences, University of South-Eastern Norway, Kongsberg, Norway
  • Eva M. Breines Department of Arctic and Marine Biology, UiT The Arctic University of Norway, Tromsø, Norway
  • Morten Tryland Department of Arctic and Marine Biology, UiT The Arctic University of Norway, Tromsø, Norway; and Norwegian Polar Institute, Fram Centre, Tromsø, Norway
Keywords: Antarctic fur seal, parapoxvirus, Southern elephant seal, Southern Ocean, wildlife disease, zoonosis


Knowledge of the health status and potential effect of disease outbreaks among Southern Ocean fauna may be decisive for its conservation. We assessed the exposure and infection of Antarctic fur seals (Arctocephalus gazella, AFS) and Southern elephant seals (Mirounga leonine, SES) to parapoxvirus, Phocid alphaherpesvirus-1 (PhHV-1), smooth Brucella spp. and Toxoplasma gondii. AFS (n = 65) serum and swab samples, and SES (n = 13) serum samples from the sub--Antarctic island of Bouvetøya (54°25’S, 03°22’E) were collected during two austral summers (2014/15, 2017/18). Three polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests amplifying the DNA polymerase, B2L and GIF parapoxvirus genomic regions were performed, investigating DNA from mucosal swab samples. The glycoprotein B gene was targeted to detect PhHV-1 viral DNA. Sera were assayed for T. gondii and smooth Brucella spp. antibodies with indirect enzyme-linked immunosorbent assays. Parapoxvirus PCR amplicons of the expected size were generated in two of the 29 AFS pups (nasal swabs, 2014/15), targeting the B2L (n = 2) and DNA polymerase (n = 1) genes, whereas the GIF PCR did not amplify target sequences. The PCR amplicons were sequenced and blasted in GenBank, revealing highest similarity with a seal parapoxvirus, confirming the presence of the virus in AFS for the first time. No PhHV-1 amplicons were generated, and antibodies against T. gondii or smooth Brucella spp. were not detected. Our data indicate that these seals are host for parapoxvirus but are neither exposed to smooth Brucella spp. nor T. gondii. Evidence of PhHV-1 shedding was not detected.


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How to Cite
Núñez-Egido S., Lowther A., Nymo I. H., Klein J., Breines E. M., & Tryland M. (2020). Pathogen surveillance in Southern Ocean pinnipeds. Polar Research, 39.
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