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Leptospirosis Affecting Many Sea Lions on Oregon Coast: Watch Your Dogs

Published 10/27/22 at 6:03 PM
By Oregon Coast Beach Connection staff

Leptospirosis Affecting Many Sea Lions on Oregon Coast: Watch Your Dogs

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(Newport, Oregon) – Another run of California sea lions (Zalophus californianus) infected with a somewhat contagious disease is hitting the Oregon coast, according to the Hatfield Marine Science Center in Newport. Leptospirosis, a contagious bacterial infection of the kidneys, is making its appearance again, and Oregon coast officials say it is of concern to people with pets on the beach. (Photo Oregon Coast Beach Connection: a resting sea lion at Lincoln City in 2012)

Sea lions infected with the disease often appear lethargic and unable to move their hind limbs. Those ill often appear to have significant weight loss and even pneumonia.

Unfortunately, the disease is transmissible to humans and dogs.

Leptospirosis Affecting Many Sea Lions on Oregon Coast: Watch Your Dogs
(Photo Oregon Coast Beach Connection: a resting sea lion at Lincoln City in 2012)

“We strongly advise people to keep themselves and their pets well clear of sea lions on the beach,” the Hatfield said in an alert on its website.

The disease is making an impression on the Oregon coast, as it did in 2017 and another, sizably larger event in 2010.

Jim Rice, with the Marine Mammal Stranding Network out of the Hatfield, told Oregon Coast Beach Connection some 150 sick or already-dead sea lions have washed up along the entire Oregon coastline, from Brookings to Warrenton.

“Sick sea lions with signs of leptospirosis (extreme lethargy, emaciation, and reluctance to use their hind flippers) started showing up in late July along the south and central coasts,” Rice said. “Of those, Oregon State University has done necropsies on 7 carcasses, and all of those have been positive for leptospirosis.”

If you take your dog to to the Oregon coast, keep them far from any sea lion, whether dead or alive.

Rice told Oregon Coast Beach Connection little is known about why the disease occurs.

“Outbreaks of leptospirosis in California sea lions occur every several years but we still don’t know exactly why that happens,” he said. “There's a group at UCLA that's looking at it in detail.”

That research group – the Leptospirosis Research Laboratory - has said it can come down to herd immunity, sea surface temperatures and sea lion patterns.

Rice said it appears as if the “leptospira bacteria continuously reside in the sea lion population,” and they periodically shed the organism in some way, thus starting a run of infections.

It is a violation of federal and state laws to harass, disturb, touch, or feed marine mammals. Report violations to the Oregon State Police (800) 452-7888.

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Photo courtesy Seaside Aquarium

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