Science and Health

Parasite Found In House Cats Showing Up In Arctic Whales

Researchers believe an influx of house cats to the arctic is responsible for the spread of Toxoplama gondii to whales.

Parasite Found In House Cats Showing Up In Arctic Whales
Wikimedia Commons / Georgia Aquarium

A parasite often found in house cats has started showing up in beluga whales in the Arctic. 

The phenomenon was discovered by researchers from the University of British Columbia. The parasite, Toxoplasma gondii, can cause sickness in humans and even blindness. (Via National Geographic

"For people who have an intact immune system we think that it doesn't effect ... but it can be devastating for people who have weakened immune systems. There's no way to treat toxo." (Via KTVK)

There are a number of reasons it could have spread to belugas but when it comes down to it, researchers point to climate change as the main culprit. 

The BBC notes an "influx of cats to the Arctic brought in as pets will have imported the pathogen.The contents of their feces will somehow have got into watercourses and then been washed into the ocean."

And with warmer water and melting ice, the pathogen is mobile for longer. It can only be destroyed by being boiled or frozen. (Via CBS)

National Geographic also points to climate change as a reason for the spread of Sarcocystis. It's a parasite that can be fatal to gray seals, killing more than 400 in the North Atlantic. 

Because of Toxoplasma, officials in the Arctic have issued a public warning to locals... (Via International Business Times

... to stay away from raw or undercooked Beluga whale meat — which is often eaten by the Inuit people in the region. (Via Flickr / jai MANSSON)

The Inuit people have also been warned to filter or boil water supplies as those could also be contaminated.