NUTRITION

A Parasite Spread by Cat Poop Is Infecting (and Probably Killing) Whales in Canada

Whales have it hard. For a century, they were hunted to a mere fraction of their preindustrial populations, and they now face constant threats from pollution, climate change and ongoing human meddling in the planet's waterways. It's a lot for a cetacean to worry about, and now, according to recent research, whales can add "cat poop" to their list of concerns. In the new study, published online Sept. 27 in the journal Diseases of Aquatic Organisms, a team of marine researchers from Canada tested the brain and heart tissues of 34 beluga whales. The animals died in Quebec, Canada's St. Lawrence Estuary between 2009 and 2012. The researchers were looking for parasites — in particular, Toxoplasma gondii. This single-celled parasite is commonly found in cats and is notoriously good at spreading to other animals, usually through feces. The team found that 15 of the whales (about 44 percent of the samples) tested positive for T. gondii.


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