Symbiotic microbes and potential pathogens in the intestine of dead southern right whale (Eubalaena australis) calves

Carina F. Marón, Kevin D. Kohl, Andrea Chirife, Matías Di Martino, Mariola Penadés Fons, Mauricio A. Navarro, Juliann Beingesser, Denise McAloose, Francisco A Uzal, M. Denise Dearing, Victoria J. Rowntree, Marcela Uhart

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


Between 2003 and 2017, at least 706 southern right whale (Eubalaena australis) calves died at the Península Valdés calving ground in Argentina. Pathogenic microbes are often suggested to be the cause of stranding events in cetaceans; however, to date there is no evidence supporting bacterial infections as a leading cause of right whale calf deaths in Argentina. We used high-throughput sequencing and culture methods to characterize the bacterial communities and to detect potential pathogens from the intestine of stranded calves. We analyzed small and large intestinal contents from 44 dead calves that stranded at Península Valdés from 2005 to 2010 and found 108 bacterial genera, most identified as Firmicutes or Bacteroidetes, and 9 genera that have been previously implicated in diseases of marine mammals. Only one operational taxonomic unit was present in all samples and identified as Clostridium perfringens type A. PCR results showed that all C. perfringens isolates (n = 38) were positive for alpha, 50% for beta 2 (n = 19) and 47% for enterotoxin (CPE) genes (n = 18). The latter is associated with food-poisoning and gastrointestinal diseases in humans and possibly other animals. The prevalence of the cpe gene found in the Valdés’ calves is unusually high compared with other mammals. However, insufficient histologic evidence of gastrointestinal inflammation or necrosis (the latter possibly masked by autolysis) in the gut of stranded calves, and absence of enterotoxin detection precludes conclusions about the role of C. perfringens in calf deaths. Further work is required to determine whether C. perfringens or other pathogens detected in this study are causative agents of calf deaths at Península Valdés.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)107-114
Number of pages8
StatePublished - Jun 1 2019


  • Baleen whales
  • Clostridium perfringens
  • Microbiota
  • Pathogens
  • Strandings

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Microbiology
  • Infectious Diseases


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