Friday, April 10, 2015

RB24 Haupu Cause of Death Results are In

It's with great sadness to know this beautiful creature suffered so.... I hope through her loss knowledge is gained and the ability to treat or prevent this infection.

Aloha Volunteers,

The following information comes to us from NOAA and has been published.  This may not be surprising information, but it is a very problematic and heart breaking piece of science that we all are facing.  Taxo is a very real problem now in our islands. It is now affecting some of our monk seal population. Monk Seals as many marine mammals  are the "canaries of the ocean" for mankind.  We all mourn the loss of this very special seal, and NOAA is working to find a solution to water testing and to try to mitigate the circumstances when or if monk seals come in contact with this disease.  It is not curable from what I have read, so we all need to be aware of what can be done.

My internet service has cut me off six times in the last hour.  I'm sending this to get it out asap.  Please excuse the abrupt tone of my outreach.  Mahalo and Aloha to you all.

Aloha All,
Lab tests have come in, giving us some answers to the cause of death for Haupu (RB24) and her aborted fetus.

It appears that mortality was caused by Toxoplasma gondii infection that affected the brain, lungs, fat, heart and other organs. We do not know exactly when or how the infection was acquired. The Toxoplasma parasites were widespread throughout the body, but where most severe, they led to encephalitis (inflammation in the brain) and severe necrosis of the adipose tissue (tissue degradation in the blubber and internal fat stores). The inflammation seen within the blubber was likely quite painful and explains why Haupu had such a reluctance to haul out or move around. The infection in the lung led to a series of inflammatory processes that made it difficult for Haupu to distribute oxygen to her tissues, including those of her unborn pup. That lack of oxygen, in addition to the placental damage caused by Toxoplasma, explain why she aborted the fetus. Ultimately, Haupu died of respiratory failure because of the inflammation caused by the parasites in the lung. There is little chance that aToxoplasma infection of this severity would have been treatable.

Having a definitive cause of death also helps with understanding what role our handling during the diesel spill may have had on her. At this point it seems that there was no connection between that event and her illness.  

Thanks to all who showed concern and helped with monitoring and capture of Haupu.  Also many thanks to the veterinary experts who helped us understand and learn from this unfortunate loss. While we do not fully understand the risk factors for exposure, infection and death of monk seals from Toxoplasma, we are working to collect more information that may help us understand and develop reasonable target actions to reduce the risk for animals in the future. A review of the life cycle and possible routes of exposure for monk seals is covered in the diagram distributed last year (also attached).

Aliza Milette-Winfree
Marine Mammal Stranding Response Coordinator
Ocean Associates, Inc Contractor
NOAA National Marine Fisheries Service
Pacific Islands Regional Office 

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