Beluga Whales Infected With Cat Parasite

Poses health threat to Inuits

By Matt Cantor,  Newser Staff

Posted Feb 15, 2014 3:35 PM CST

(Newser) – The Toxoplasma gondii parasite, carried by cats, can cause rats to stop fearing the felines; in humans, it can cause blindness. Now, beluga whales in the Arctic have been discovered to have the parasite—and researchers fear it could infect the people who eat them. "The only way to kill (the parasites) is to freeze them, dessicate them, or boil them," a researcher tells the Independent. Trouble is, Inuits who eat beluga don't necessarily cook it thoroughly, the BBC reports.

Toxoplasma gondii has turned up in more than 10% of belugas living in the Beaufort Sea off Canada, the Smithsonian notes. A health advisory has been issued to Inuits living in the area. How did a cat parasite manage to reach Arctic belugas? One possibility: After cats were brought to the region, their feces ended up in local water and, eventually, the ocean. Warming weather can also allow mammals who typically live further south and carry different germs to mix with northern populations. Click for more on how scientists are watching whales—from space.

Beluga whales were found to host cat parasites.
Beluga whales were found to host cat parasites.   (Shutterstock)
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