Occurrence of anthropozoonotic parasitic infections and faecal microbes
in free-ranging sperm whales (Physeter macrocephalus)
from the Mediterranean Sea
L. M. R. Silva
J. M. Brotons
Received: 26 January 2018 /Accepted: 23 May 2018 /Published online: 1 June 2018
Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2018
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.
Keywords Physeter macrocephalus
Sperm whales (Physeter macrocephalus) are the largest of
toothed whales in the world and only living member of family
Physeteridae. Within the Mediterranean Sea, a threaten subpop-
ulation of sperm whales exists, with less than 2500 mature indi-
viduals, and still facing a continuous decline (Lewis et al. 2007).
Considering the fact that seawater inlet of Mediterranean
Sea is a rather closed marine ecosystem, sperm whales
inhabiting these waters are highly vulnerable to zoonotic in-
fections (Jones and Dubey 2010), anthropogenic threat such
as coastal development, overfishing, by-catch, collisions, wa-
ter and noise pollution (Silva et al. 2013; VanWormer et al.
2013;Brotons2015; Hermosilla et al. 2015). Additionally, a
‘whale watching tourism’ is increasingly offered around the
Mediterranean Sea. This poses a high degree of stress to ani-
mals and might have a strong impact on sperm whale immune
system and consequently on their health condition on both
individual and population level as described elsewhere
(Bejder et al. 2006; Beineke et al. 2010).
Section Editor: Shokoofeh Shamsi
* Carlos Hermosilla
Institute of Parasitology, Biomedical Research Centre Seltersberg
(BFS), Justus Liebig University Giessen, Schubertstr. 81,
35392 Giessen, Germany
Tursiops Association, Palma de Mallorca, Spain
Institute for Hygiene and Infectious Diseases of Animals, Justus
Liebig University Giessen, Giessen, Germany
Parasitology Research (2018) 117:2531–2541