The “whale of Montreal” and the COVID-19

Le «rorqual de Montréal» et la COVID-19

The humpback whale is dead. Probably as a result of a collision with a ship. It would also have been able to catch the coronavirus in the port of Montreal and along the St. Lawrence river.

A team of researchers from the University of California at Davis has established that marine mammals, including whales and beluga whales, are vulnerable to viruses of this type.

Studies have also revealed the presence of fragments of the coronavirus in the sanitation systems of european cities. Researchers have also examined the wastewater to Boston in order to predict the number of cases of coronavirus. It should, therefore, be the case for the towns, affected by the COVID-19, discharge their wastewater into the St. Lawrence, of which the balance of health is sobering.

The marine mammals are contaminated by various types of coronavirus. In 2000, it was discovered, along the coast of california, the corpses of dead seals infected by a respiratory coronavirus. We also found traces of viruses of this family in seals and beluga whales in captivity. In 2008, a necropsy revealed that a coronavirus had damaged the liver of a beluga whale in captivity in a water park. Researchers worry that the whales are at high risk of infection with the new coronavirus.

If the whales, including the beluga whales, are susceptible to SARS-CoV-2, this may have an impact on subsistence hunting for Inuit in the Arctic, in view of the danger of spreading the virus to inuit hunters and their families consume whales. The pandemic of sars coronavirus could also change the way researchers interact with the marine mammals. Scientists working with marine mammals, should take extra precautions to conduct their research?

For the moment, “there is no data on the potential sensitivity of marine mammals to virus [responsible for the COVID-19]”, underscores, on the site of “Whales live”, Dr. Stéphane Lair, a professor at the Faculty of veterinary medicine of the University of Montreal. However, terrestrial mammals are vulnerable to this. Dogs and cats, but also tigers and lions from the Bronx Zoo, in New York, have caught the coronavirus.

Thanks to their living environment and the spacing that has already been taxed to the humans attending their middle (100 meters), the marine mammals of the St. Lawrence river seem to be fairly well protected from a potential contamination: “It is impossible to say that the risks are zero, but they are likely to be very low,” says Dr. Lair

Marie-Eve Muller, editor-in-chief of “Whales live”, the site information of the Group for research and education on marine mammals (GREMM), confirms me in an email that the virus are still a risk to the whale populations. The Network quebec marine mammal emergency response recommended more than ever to keep his distance from the marine mammals, including seals on the beaches.

For Marie-Eve Muller, the whales could also be affected in a positive way. In fact, the downturn of human activities and the decrease in shipping traffic may in fact improve the conditions of life of marine mammals.

Two humpback whales have also been sighted off the coast of Marseille this spring. This special appearance has been attributed to the confinement related to the pandemic: less traffic at sea, less noisy boats.

It opens up new areas for marine mammals, with the risks that this entails, as we see with “the whale of Montreal”.

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