Here’s a story that demonstrates how interconnected the world is, for better and for worse. Whales are in a lot of trouble what with whaling, ship collisions and being entangled in ghost gear. Now, a new study, reveals that whales should also be concerned about your cat. To be exact your cat’s poop. Really! Are kittens killing Beluga Whales?
The connection goes something like this. A cat can become infected by eating a rodent that is infected with the Toxoplasma gondii parasite. The resulting disease called toxoplasmosis can then easily be spread between mammals including to humans.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, possibly 20% of the population of the U.S. and 80% of the world’s population could be infected with toxoplasmosis.
Although the health effects in humans are usually quite mild some studies have shown links to neurological conditions like bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. (photo – Koen-Eijkelenboom-unsplash)
Back to Belugas
The new study published in the journal Diseases of Aquatic Organisms, revealed that of 34 beluga whales found dead in the waters of Canada’s St. Lawrence Estuary between 2009 and 2012, fifteen were infected with the T.gondii parasite.
More research needs to be completed before it can be determined if the parasite played a prominent role in the death of these beluga whales. However, Toxoplasmosis has been shown to be a cause of death in sea otters, monk seals and dolphins.
Bag Don’t Flush
The St. Lawrence drains North America’s heavily populated Great Lakes, home to millions of cat lovers living in Chicago, Detroit, Toronto and Montreal. And since T.gondii is a resilient parasite and can survive sewage treatment, any cat poop that is flushed into municipal drainage systems will eventually reach the ocean.
If you want to protect not only beluga whales but all marine mammals, researchers are cautioning cat owners to refrain from flushing and instead dispose of kitty litter in the garbage.
Maybe the bigger lesson is the realization of how our actions, even those that we perceive as the most routine and inconsequential, can in fact have far reaching consequences. Something as simple as selecting which sunscreen to take to the beach can have a detrimental effect on coral reefs and marine life. We live in a finite space where cause and effect are interrelated, something for all of us to consider.
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