Microbial Ecology

, Volume 65, Issue 4, pp 1024–1038 | Cite as

Clonally Related Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus aureus Isolated from Short-Finned Pilot Whales (Globicephala macrorhynchus), Human Volunteers, and a Bayfront Cetacean Rehabilitation Facility

  • Suzanne Hower
  • Matthew C. Phillips
  • Micah Brodsky
  • Adrienne Dameron
  • Manuel A. Tamargo
  • Norma C. Salazar
  • Charlene R. Jackson
  • John B. Barrett
  • Maureen Davidson
  • Johnnie Davis
  • Sampa Mukherjee
  • Ruth Y. Ewing
  • Maribeth L. Gidley
  • Christopher D. Sinigalliano
  • Lisa Johns
  • Frank E. JohnsonIII
  • Olufunmilola Adebanjo
  • Lisa R. W. Plano
Environmental Microbiology


In May of 2011, a live mass stranding of 26 short-finned pilot whales (Globicephala macrorhynchus) occurred in the lower Florida Keys. Five surviving whales were transferred from the original stranding site to a nearby marine mammal rehabilitation facility where they were constantly attended to by a team of volunteers. Bacteria cultured during the routine clinical care of the whales and necropsy of a deceased whale included methicillin-sensitive and methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MSSA and MRSA). In order to investigate potential sources or reservoirs of MSSA and MRSA, samples were obtained from human volunteers, whales, seawater, and sand from multiple sites at the facility, nearby recreational beaches, and a canal. Samples were collected on 3 days. The second collection day was 2 weeks after the first, and the third collection day was 2 months after the last animal was removed from the facility. MRSA and MSSA were isolated on each day from the facility when animals and volunteers were present. MSSA was found at an adjacent beach on all three collection days. Isolates were characterized by utilizing a combination of quantitative real-time PCR to determine the presence of mecA and genes associated with virulence, staphylococcal protein A typing, staphylococcal cassette chromosome mec typing, multilocus sequence typing, and pulsed field gel electrophoresis (PFGE). Using these methods, clonally related MRSA were isolated from multiple environmental locations as well as from humans and animals. Non-identical but genetically similar MSSA and MRSA were also identified from distinct sources within this sample pool. PFGE indicated that the majority of MRSA isolates were clonally related to the prototype human strain USA300. These studies support the notion that S. aureus may be shed into an environment by humans or pilot whales and subsequently colonize or infect exposed new hosts.



We would like to thank the Marine Mammal Conservancy for their assistance and cooperation during this study. We thank Alexander Costidis for performing the whale necropsy as well as the staff at the FWC Fish and Wildlife Research Institute, Marine Mammal Pathobiology Laboratory. We are grateful to Ari Bennett, Julie Hollenbeck, Heather Coit, Sharon Plano, Rebecca Weeks, Havek Kavoblock, Ryan Phillips, Danielle DeHowitt, and the Florida Department of Health for their assistance during the sample collections. We thank Dr. Helena Solo-Gabriele and Faiza Benahmed, for assistance in processing and storing samples. Thanks to Carlton Woods at Micrim Laboratory, Inc. for isolating MRSA from the whale samples and facilitating the transfer to University of Miami Miller School of Medicine. We also thank the Palm Beach Infectious Disease Institute for providing S. aureus clinical isolates for comparison. Additionally, we thank the Hollings Scholarship Program of the NOAA Office of Education for their support of the Hollings Scholar students involved in this project. Marine Mammal samples were collected as either diagnostic clinical samples or as salvage samples under NMFS Permit No. 932-1905/MA-009526. This publication represents the personal opinions of the authors and is not the official position of the contributing federal government agencies. No official endorsement of any product or commercial laboratory is made or implied by its use in this study.

Supplementary material

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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Suzanne Hower
    • 1
  • Matthew C. Phillips
    • 2
    • 8
  • Micah Brodsky
    • 3
  • Adrienne Dameron
    • 2
  • Manuel A. Tamargo
    • 2
  • Norma C. Salazar
    • 2
  • Charlene R. Jackson
    • 4
  • John B. Barrett
    • 4
  • Maureen Davidson
    • 5
  • Johnnie Davis
    • 5
  • Sampa Mukherjee
    • 5
  • Ruth Y. Ewing
    • 6
  • Maribeth L. Gidley
    • 7
    • 8
    • 9
  • Christopher D. Sinigalliano
    • 7
    • 8
  • Lisa Johns
    • 7
  • Frank E. JohnsonIII
    • 7
  • Olufunmilola Adebanjo
    • 7
  • Lisa R. W. Plano
    • 1
    • 8
  1. 1.Departments of Pediatrics and Microbiology and ImmunologyUniversity of Miami Miller School of MedicineMiamiUSA
  2. 2.Department of Microbiology and ImmunologyUniversity of Miami Miller School of MedicineMiamiUSA
  3. 3.V.M.D. ConsultingMiamiUSA
  4. 4.Bacterial Epidemiology and Antimicrobial Resistance Research Unit, Richard B. Russell Research CenterU.S. Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research ServiceAthensUSA
  5. 5.Center for Veterinary MedicineU.S. Food & Drug AdministrationLaurelUSA
  6. 6.National Marine Fisheries ServiceNational Oceanic and Atmospheric AdministrationMiamiUSA
  7. 7.Atlantic Oceanographic and Meteorological LaboratoryNational Oceanic and Atmospheric AdministrationMiamiUSA
  8. 8.NSF-NIEHS Oceans and Human Health Center, Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric SciencesUniversity of MiamiMiamiUSA
  9. 9.Cooperative Institute for Marine and Atmospheric Studies, Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric SciencesUniversity of MiamiMiamiUSA

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