Pádraig J. Duignan1, BSc, MSc, MVB, PhD; Katja Geschke2, DVM, PhD; Gregory Stone3, BA, PhD; Alistair Hutt4; Jonas Teilmann5, MSc, PhD; Kirsty Russell6, MSc; John Cockrem1, BSc, PhD; Rob Suisted4; Gareth Jones1; Austen Yoshinaga, MSc3
1NZ Wildlife Health Centre, IVABS, Massey University, Palmerston North, New Zealand; 2Wellington Zoo Trust, Wellington, New Zealand; 3New England Aquarium, Boston, Central Wharf, MA, USA; 4Department of Conservation, Akaroa Field Centre, North Canterbury, New Zealand; 5National Environmental Research Institute, Department for Arctic Environment, Højbro Plads, Kobenhaven, Denmark; 6University of Auckland, School of Biological Sciences, Private Bag, Auckland, New Zealand
Three Hector’s dolphins (Cephalorhunchus hectori hectori) were captured and released in the waters surrounding Banks Peninsula, New Zealand, for attachment of satellite transmitters (SPOT3). The trial was intended to evaluate the efficiency and safety of satellite tagging for potential application to the critically endangered Maui’s dolphin (Cephalocynchus hectori maui) and to acquire the first health data of live Hector’s dolphins. A comprehensive health and physiologic assessment was conducted prior to tagging and release, providing the first baseline health data for this species. The examination included body and blubber measurements and weight, hematology, biochemistry, serology, steroid endocrinology, culture from blowhole expirations and rectal and genital swabs. One female was seropositive for Brucella abortus by c-ELISA, a published cause of reproductive failure in dolphins. This serologic result was the first indication that a marine mammal Brucella sp. may be endemic in New Zealand. Tissues from four dead Hector’s dolphins following the field trial were tested for Brucella spp. by culture and nested PCR (OMP 25). Basic Local Alignment Search Tool (BLAST) sequence analysis confirmed the genetic relationship of the isolated Brucella sp. to B. suis, B. pinnipediae, and B. cetacean. Further characterization is underway. The described Brucella spp. have been isolated from humans who have come in contact with infected cetaceans. They are potentially pathologic for humans and have to be treated as a zoonotic disease. Our finding has implications in the handling and examination of live and stranded Hector’s dolphins.