Katie Pugliares and Kristen Patchett author marine mammal stranding paper published in the journal 'Diseases of Aquatic Organisms'

posted Feb 19, 2010, 7:59 AM by Sherri DeFilipp

Investigation into the cause of mortality of marine mammal strandings has recently been published in the journal 'Diseases of Aquatic Organisms' (88:143-155(2010)).  Authored by Katie Pugliares (UNE marine science graduate student), Kristen Patchett (UNE-Marine Animal Rehabilitation Center Staff) and researchers from the International Fund for Animal Welfare and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, this study examined the cause of death of 405 marine mammals stranded along the shores of Cape Cod and southeastern Massachusetts between 2000- 2006.  

A system for coding final diagnosis was developed to categorize individual cases in order to identify mortality trends within and among species.  For the 314 animals that could be confidently assigned a cause of death, gross and histological pathology results and ancillary testing indicated that disease was the leading cause of mortality in the region, affecting 37% of cases. Human interaction, including harassment, entanglement, and vessel collision, fatally affected 10% of all animals. Human interaction accounted for 45% of all determined gray seal mortalities. Mass strandings were the leading cause of death in 3 of the 4 small cetacean species: 46/67 Atlantic white-sided dolphins, 15/21 long-finned pilot whales, and 33/54 of short-beaked common dolphins. Ninety-two percent of mass stranded cetaceans necropsied presented with no significant pathological findings.  These baseline data are critical for understanding marine mammal population health and mortality trends, which in turn have significant conservation and management implications. They not only afford a better retrospective analysis of strandings, but ultimately have application for improving current and future response to live animal stranding. Case specific detail is also available in an on-line supplemental table also available via open access.