Can a Whale Get Rabies?

Tuesday, January 12, 2010 - 11:28 in Biology & Nature

“It’s not as silly a question as you might think,” says Michael Moore, a marine-mammal research specialist at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts. “It would take some extraordinary circumstances, but any mammal can get rabies.” Bats, coyotes, foxes and raccoons are the most common carriers of rabies but, being landlubbers, it’s highly improbable that any of them would have a chance to bite and infect a whale. One of those animals could, however, bite a seal that’s resting on a beach, and then that seal could swim off and bite a whale. Although there is absolutely no record of a rabid whale, and only one documented case of rabies in a seal—a ringed seal caught in 1980 in Svalbard, an archipelago off Norway—the scenario may soon be of greater concern. “Starting 10 years ago, coyotes began to prey on harp seals here on Cape Cod,” Moore says. “Because of that,...

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