Parasitology Research

, Volume 115, Issue 2, pp 889–896 | Cite as

Endoparasite survey of free-swimming baleen whales (Balaenoptera musculus, B. physalus, B. borealis) and sperm whales (Physeter macrocephalus) using non/minimally invasive methods

  • Carlos Hermosilla
  • Liliana M. R. Silva
  • Sonja Kleinertz
  • Rui Prieto
  • Monica A. Silva
  • Anja Taubert
Short Communication


A number of parasitic diseases have gained importance as neozoan opportunistic infections in the marine environment. Here, we report on the gastrointestinal endoparasite fauna of three baleen whale species and one toothed whale: blue (Balaenoptera musculus), fin (Balaenoptera physalus), and sei whales (Balaenoptera borealis) and sperm whales (Physeter macrocephalus) from the Azores Islands, Portugal. In total, 17 individual whale fecal samples [n = 10 (B. physalus); n = 4 (P. macrocephalus); n = 2 (B. musculus); n = 1 (B. borealis)] were collected from free-swimming animals as part of ongoing studies on behavioral ecology. Furthermore, skin biopsies were collected from sperm whales (n = 5) using minimally invasive biopsy darting and tested for the presence of Toxoplasma gondii, Neospora caninum, and Besnoitia besnoiti DNA via PCR. Overall, more than ten taxa were detected in whale fecal samples. Within protozoan parasites, Entamoeba spp. occurred most frequently (64.7 %), followed by Giardia spp. (17.6 %) and Balantidium spp. (5.9 %). The most prevalent metazoan parasites were Ascaridida indet. spp. (41.2 %), followed by trematodes (17.7 %), acanthocephalan spp., strongyles (11.8 %), Diphyllobotrium spp. (5.9 %), and spirurids (5.9 %). Helminths were mainly found in sperm whales, while enteric protozoan parasites were exclusively detected in baleen whales, which might be related to dietary differences. No T. gondii, N. caninum, or B. besnoiti DNA was detected in any skin sample. This is the first record on Giardia and Balantidium infections in large baleen whales.


Balaenoptera musculus B. borealis B. physalus Physeter macrocephalus Parasites Giardia Balantidium 



We are deeply thankful to those who contributed to the whale images included in this work: Claudia Oliveira (Fig. 1a) and N. Liebsich (Fig. 1b, c), and Christine Henrich for her molecular work. We further acknowledge funds and support from the Portuguese Fundação para a Ciência e a Tecnologia (FCT), Fundo Regional da Ciência e Tecnologia (FRCT), through research projects TRACE-PTDC/MAR/74071/2006 and MAPCET-M2.1.2/F/012/2011 [FEDER, the Competitiveness Factors Operational (COMPETE), QREN European Social Fund, and Proconvergencia Açores/EU Program]. We furthermore acknowledge funds provided by FCT to MARE and by the FRCT—Government of the Azores pluri-annual funding. RP is supported by a research grant from the Azores Regional Fund for Science and Technology (M3.1.5/F/115/2012). MAS is supported by FCT through a Program Investigator FCT fellowship (IF/00943/2013).


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • Carlos Hermosilla
    • 1
  • Liliana M. R. Silva
    • 1
  • Sonja Kleinertz
    • 2
  • Rui Prieto
    • 3
  • Monica A. Silva
    • 3
    • 4
  • Anja Taubert
    • 1
  1. 1.Institute of Parasitology, Biomedical Research Center SeltersbergJustus Liebig University GiessenGiessenGermany
  2. 2.Aquaculture and Sea-Ranching, Faculty of Agricultural and Environmental SciencesUniversity of RostockRostockGermany
  3. 3.MARE—Marine and Environmental Sciences Centre and IMAR—Institute of Marine ResearchUniversity of the AzoresHortaPortugal
  4. 4.Biology DepartmentWoods Hole Oceanographic InstitutionWoods HoleUSA

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