Pathological findings and survey for pathogens associated with reproductive failure in perinatal Steller sea lions Eumetopias jubatus

J. A. Esquible, K. Burek-Huntington, S. Atkinson, A. C. Klink, E. Bortz, T. A. Goldstein, K. Beckmen, K. Pabilonia, R. Tiller

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


Steller sea lions (SSLs) Eumetopias jubatus experienced a population decline in the 1960s, leading to the listing of the western stock as endangered and the eastern stock as threatened under the US Endangered Species Act. A decrease of births in the western stock beginning in the late 1960s indicates that reproductive failure may have contributed to the decline. We evaluated the role pathogens play in spontaneous abortions, premature births and neonatal deaths in SSLs. Archived tissues from carcasses (n = 19) collected in Alaska from 2002 to 2015 were tested by PCR for Coxiella burnetii, Brucella spp., Chlamydia and morbilliviruses. Animals examined included 47% premature pups, 32% aborted fetuses, 11% neonates and 11% intrauterine fetuses. Gross necropsy and histology findings were summarized in the context of the PCR findings. Tissues were negative for Chlamydia and C. burnetii. Brucella spp. were detected in the lung tissues of 3 animals, including 1 positive for the ST27 strain, the first detection of Brucella spp. DNA in SSLs. Phocine distemper virus was detected in 3 animals in 2 skin lesions and 1 placenta by heminested diagnostic qRT-PCR. Both skin and the placental lesions had vesiculoulcerative changes, and 1 skin lesion contained inclusion bodies in syncytia and upon histologic examination, suggesting that the lesions may be associated with an infection reminiscent of phocine distemper virus, the first in SSLs. We highlight the continuing need for disease surveillance programs to improve our understanding of the prevalence and potential population impacts of these infectious disease agents for pinnipeds in Alaskan waters.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)131-144
Number of pages14
JournalDiseases of aquatic organisms
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jan 1 2019
Externally publishedYes


  • Alaska
  • Brucella spp.
  • Chlamydia
  • Coxiella burnetii
  • Eumetopias jubatus
  • Morbillivirus
  • Reproductive failure
  • Steller sea lion

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Aquatic Science


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