Master's Thesis - McGill University (1995)


Seventy-eight harbour porpoises, Phocoena phocoena, (33 females, 45 males) were obtained from the summer (June-September) cod fishery incidental-by-catch in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, and examined for the presence of cranial sinus nematodes. This is the first quantitative and in-depth study of the distribution of Stenurus minor (Kuhn, 1829) Baylis and Daubney, 1925 in the cranium of by-caught harbour porpoises. Stenurus minor was present in the cranial sinuses of all adult porpoises (>1yr, n = 66, x = 2362, range 87-8920) and absent in all young-of-the-year (<1yr, n = 12). Only fifth-stage worms were observed and these were equally distributed between the right and left side ot the skull (mean intensity = 1158 and 1213 in the left and right side, respectively). Female S. minor were predominant (1:1.8 sex ratio). Mean intensity of S. minor was similar among all infected porpoises, suggesting an annual loss and recruitment of this parasite. Parasite load had no apparent effect on porpoise body condition (measured as % blubber weight of carcass). No gross lesions associated with the presence of numerous S. minor in the cranial sinuses, were observed. There was an inverse relationship between the intensity of S. minor and mean worm-length, suggestive of a "crowding effect". Mean worm-length in lightly infected porpoises was 17.8±0.2 mm and 16.1±0.2 mm in heavily infected animals. Possible life-cycles and modes of transmission are examined in light of our findings. The absence of S. minor in porpoises less than 1 year old suggests heteroxenous transmission of this parasite, via an intermediate host in the food chain. Transmammary and or transplacental transmission is unlikely.