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Images: Sea Life Is Accumulating Pathogens

After white-sided dolphins became stranded in Wellfleet on Cape Cod, a team of researchers worked together to perform necropsies on eight of the animals in the necropsy facility in the Marine Research Facility at Woods  Hole Oceanographic Institution. Andrea Bogomolni, center (facing camera), took samples from the dolphins to analyze for the presence of disease-causing and zoonotic organisms, part of a large-scale survey of seabirds, marine mammals, and sharks on the East coast. (Photo by Tom Kleindinst, WHOI)

Carefully positioning a dead white-sided dolphin on the stainless steel table, WHOI biologist Michael Moore, one of the zoonosis study's leads,  and Colby Moore, a guest student visiting WHOI from the College of the Atlantic, prepare to begin the necropsy. The dolphin, one of eight that became stranded and brought to WHOI's necropsy facility, was sampled to look for disease-causing microbes. (Photo by Tom Kleindinst, WHOI)

The bodies of northern eider ducks litter a Cape Cod beach. Repeated large die-offs of these seabirds prompted a coalition of researchers from several organizations to investigate the causes of death, and whether the birds' diseases could be transferrable to other animals, or to people. (Photo by Jim Canavan, WHOI)

This male eider duck, part of a large die-off on Massachusetts beaches, was likely infected with a parasitic worm. WHOI researcher Andrea Bogomolni had previously found the same phyla of worm in harbor and harp seals. Seeing parallel disease organisms in different species led to an unprecedented study involving several organizations and initiated by WHOI biologists Michael Moore, Rebecca Gast, and Bogomolni to survey 370 marine animals for zoonotic diseases, whiich means they can be transferred between animals and people. (Courtesy of Michael Moore, WHOI)

WHOI researcher Andrea Bogomolni and WHOI biologist Michael Moore tend to a dying eider, hoping to learn about its illness and whether it carries zoonotic microbes—those that could infect other species as well. (Photo by Jim Canavan, WHOI)

Grey seals congregate and relax on Billingsgate Shoal, Cape Cod. Fecal samples from live seals and birds revealed that even apparently healthy marine animals such as these seals can harbor pathogens, including antibiotic-resistant microbes and Giardia, an intestinal parasite that can cause fever, vomiting, and diarrhea that is well known to hikers. (Photo by Jim Canavan, WHOI. NOAA Permit 775-1875-00)

WHOI microbiologist Rebecca Gast, one of the survey's lead scientists, is now finding the disease-causing freshwater intestinal parasitic microbes Cryptosporidium and Giardia in seawater, as well as in many of the surveyed marine animals. Gast speculated that these organisms might indicate pollution levels in the ocean, since they can be carried to the sea in sewage. (Photo by Tom Kleindinst, WHOI)