Parasitology Research

, Volume 117, Issue 8, pp 2531–2541 | Cite as

Occurrence of anthropozoonotic parasitic infections and faecal microbes in free-ranging sperm whales (Physeter macrocephalus) from the Mediterranean Sea

  • Carlos HermosillaEmail author
  • J. Hirzmann
  • L. M. R. Silva
  • J. M. Brotons
  • M. Cerdà
  • E. Prenger-Berninghoff
  • C. Ewers
  • A. Taubert
Original Paper


Sperm whales (Physeter macrocephalus) are the largest toothed whales and only living member of family Physeteridae. Present survey represents first report on cultivable faecal microbes and gastrointestinal helminths and protozoans infecting free-ranging sperm whales inhabiting Mediterranean Sea waters surrounding Balearic Archipelago, Spain. Twenty-five individual sperm whale scat samples, including one calf, were collected without disturbance of animals during the summer of 2016. Parasitological diagnostic methods, such as sodium acetate acetic formalin (SAF) method, carbol fuchsin-stained faecal smears, Giardia/Cryptosporidium coproantigen ELISAs and an Anisakis-specific PCR were applied for further identification. Five bacterial genera, i.e. Acinetobacter, Clostridium, Enterococcus, Staphylococcus and Streptococcus, and one fungus namely Cladosporium were identified. Parasitological infections included seven different parasite species with some of them bearing anthropozoonotic potential. Thus, four of these parasites were zoonotic, i.e. Anisakis, Balantidium, Diphyllobothriidae gen. sp. and Giardia. Additionally, Zalophotrema curilensis eggs, spirurid-like eggs and Cystoisospora-like oocysts were identified. Molecular characterization identified Anisakis physeteris as the species infecting these whales. This survey provides first records on occurrence of two zoonotic enteropathogenic protozoan parasites (Giardia and Balantidium) and of facultative pathogenic bacteria (Clostridium and Enterococcus) in sperm whales. Presented data should be considered as a baseline study for future monitoring surveys on anthropozoonotic pathogens affecting free-living sperm whale populations and enhance investigations on possible impact on public health as well as on isolated Mediterranean sperm whale subpopulation.


Physeter macrocephalus Anisakis physeteris Balantidium Diphyllobothriidae Giardia Clostridium 



We are deeply thankful to all international volunteers who participated in sperm whale scat collection during Tursiops Association summer expedition of 2016 in Spain. Furthermore, we would like to acknowledge Birgit Reinhardt, Agnes Mohr and Christine Henrich (Institute of Parasitology, Justus Liebig University Giessen, Germany) for their excellent technical support in parasitological-related investigations as well as molecular analyses of sperm whale samples.

Compliance with ethical standards

All sperm whale sampling procedures were conducted in accordance with Institutional Ethic Commission of Tursiops Association (Spain) and to Justus Liebig University Giessen (Germany), and in accordance with current European Animal Welfare Legislation: ART13TFEU.

Conflict of interests

The authors declare that they have no conflicts of interest.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Carlos Hermosilla
    • 1
    Email author
  • J. Hirzmann
    • 1
  • L. M. R. Silva
    • 1
  • J. M. Brotons
    • 2
  • M. Cerdà
    • 2
  • E. Prenger-Berninghoff
    • 3
  • C. Ewers
    • 3
  • A. Taubert
    • 1
  1. 1.Institute of Parasitology, Biomedical Research Centre Seltersberg (BFS)Justus Liebig University GiessenGiessenGermany
  2. 2.Tursiops AssociationPalma de MallorcaSpain
  3. 3.Institute for Hygiene and Infectious Diseases of AnimalsJustus Liebig University GiessenGiessenGermany

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