Incidence of poxvirus-like lesions in two estuarine dolphin populations in Australia: links to flood events

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Fury, CA & Reif, JS 2012, 'Incidence of poxvirus-like lesions in two estuarine dolphin populations in Australia: Links to flood events', Science of the Total Environment, vol. 416, pp. 536-540.

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We report on the incidence of poxvirus-like lesions assessed by photographic identification in two estuarine populations of bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops aduncus) in Australia over a 3-year period. Poxvirus infections of odontocetes are characterized by pinhole or ring-like skin lesions that appear as solitary or coalesced circular gray blemishes. Environmental and physiological stressors are believed to contribute to their manifestation (Van Bressem et al., 2009b). A total of 187 boat-based surveys were completed from October 2003 to September 2006 in the Clarence River (CR) and Richmond River (RR) estuaries, with 720 dolphins sighted. Forty-six individuals, including calves, were identified in the CR and 23 in the RR. We investigated the temporal relationship between four flood events that occurred in the region during the study period and the occurrence of poxvirus-like skin lesions. Dolphin poxvirus-like lesions were not observed in these populations prior to 2004. Following flood events in 2004, 2005 and 2006, a total of 10 new cases were observed, 6 in the CR and 4 in the RR. Our data suggest that the occurrence of dolphin poxvirus-like lesions may be an indicator for climatic events such as flooding. Long-term follow-up of these estuarine populations is required to further clarify the factors leading to ‘outbreaks’ of poxvirus infections.

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