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Contracaecum osculatum and other anisakid nematodes in grey seals and cod in the Baltic Sea: molecular and ecological links

  • S. Zuo (a1), P.W. Kania (a1), F. Mehrdana (a1), M.H. Marana (a1) and K. Buchmann (a1)...

Populations of grey seals (Halichoerus grypus), sprats (Sprattus sprattus) and cod (Gadus morhua) in the Baltic Sea are relatively stationary. The present work, applying classical and molecular helminthological techniques, documents that seals and cod also share a common parasite, the anisakid nematode Contracaecum osculatum, which uses seals as the final host and fish as transport hosts. Sequencing mitochondrial genes (COX1 and COX2) in adult worms from seals and third-stage larvae from livers of Baltic fish (sprats and cod), showed that all gene variants occur in both seals and fish. Other anisakid nematodes Pseudoterranova decipiens and Anisakis simplex are also found in both seals and cod in the Baltic Sea, but at much lower rates. The Baltic grey seal population was left at a critically low level (comprising a few hundred individuals) during the latter part of the 20th century, but since the year 2000 a marked increase in the population has been observed, reaching more than 40,000 individuals at present. Ecological consequences of the increased seal abundance may result from increased predation on fish stocks, but recent evidence also points to the influence of elevated parasitism on fish performance. Contracaecum osculatum larvae preferentially infect the liver of Baltic cod, considered a vital organ of the host. Whereas low prevalences and intensities in cod were reported during the 1980s and 1990s, the present study documents 100% prevalence and a mean intensity of above 80 worms per fish. Recent studies have also indicated the zoonotic potential of C. osculatum larvae in fish, following the consumption of raw or under-cooked fish. Therefore the present work discusses the impact of parasitism on the cod stock and the increasing risk for consumer health, and lists possible solutions for control.

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