Sick Hawaiian monk seal has infection spread by feral cats

HONOLULU — A sick Hawaiian monk seal under the care of wildlife scientists is suffering from a parasitic infection often spread via feral cat feces, officials said.

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration officials determined that the seal suffering from toxoplasmosis, the Honolulu Star-Advertiserreported Monday.

The female seal, known as Pohaku, was taken from Ko Olina on Oahu to the agency for monitoring after reports she was “logging,” or lethargically floating on the water.

There are an estimated 50,000 to 300,000 feral cats on Oahu and they are a primary source of toxoplasmosis, a parasite that reproduces in the digestive system of cats, the agency said on its website.

Hawaiian monk seals are exposed to the parasitic eggs spread by cat feces when they consume contaminated prey or water, the NOAA said.

Toxoplasmosis can destroy muscle, liver, heart, and brain tissue and cause organ failure. There is no vaccine and treatment options for infected seals are extremely limited.

Officials were “very guarded in our optimism” about Pohaku’s condition, the NOAA said.

“Despite aggressive treatment, she is very lethargic, a sign that the infection is causing pain and severe inflammation throughout her internal organs,” the agency said.

Eleven Hawaiian monk seals are known to have died from toxoplasmosis, although the number is likely higher because of unreported cases.

Toxoplasmosis affects other marine animals including spinner dolphins and native birds including alala, or Hawaiian crows.

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This story has been corrected to fix the attribution to the Honolulu Star-Advertiser.

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