Ocean researchers study impact of deadly parasite on Hawaii’s dolphins

Courtesy: NOAA #932-1905

A deadly parasite that can affect much of Hawaii’s wildlife is raising concerns for island scientists.

Officials say necropsy results have come back for a spinner dolphin that was found dead last year. After running tests, officials say the cause of death was confirmed as toxoplasmosis, a parasite found primarily in cat waste.

Dr. Kristi West, Hawaii Pacific University’s stranding program director, says cat feces that carries the parasite gets into streams that eventually run off into the ocean, and that’s where other animals can pick it up.

While more research is needed, West says her team plans to go back and test more than 20 previous spinner dolphin deaths for toxoplasmosis.

“This is really kick-starting further research to determine if it is a population threat to spinner dolphins and, in addition, we’ll be looking at other species of dolphins and whales,” said West. “Our role in this is to do investigative side, see why they died, and hopefully this information can be used to guide smart management and better cat ownership practices. Hopefully those steps can be taken to help mitigate wildlife.”

If you see beached whales or dolphins, officials say you should always report them so proper studies can be done. The NOAA hotline for reporting is 1-888-256-9840.

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