Novel infections of Corynosoma enhydri and Profilicollis sp. (Acanthocephala: Polymorphidae) identified in sea otters Enhydra lutris
Infectious disease is a major cause of mortality for sea otters Enhydra lutris, a keystone species of continued concern for conservationists. Parasitic infection has long been identified as a cause of mortality in otters in both Alaska and California, USA. Corynosoma enhydri (Acanthocephala) is the only parasite that uses sea otters as its primary definitive host and is highly prevalent in otter populations; however, it is generally considered unimportant both pathologically and ecologically, although this assumption is based on limited empirical knowledge. Research has instead focused on Profilicollis infections (P. major, P. kenti, P. altmani) as a significant source of otter mortality due to associated enteritis and peritonitis, which are threats to otter health. Here we describe acanthocephalan infections in sea otters by Profilicollis spp. and C. enhydri, from a survey comparing C. enhydri infections between northern sea otters E. lutris kenyoni (n = 12) and southern sea otters E. lutris nereis (n = 19). We report a novel infection of C. enhydri in a pup approximately 1 mo of age, which shows that the early introduction to solid food at around 3 wk by their mothers may lead to subsequent infection via infected prey items. We also document the first 2 known cases of Profilicollis infection in northern sea otters, which may present an unknown threat to the Alaskan population, or may be an interesting example of accidental infection.