Disease outbreaks with high mortality rates among seals and dolphins have recently attracted considerable public and scientific interest. Allhouyh in most cases morbillivirus infections were shown to be the primary cause of the disease outbreaks, it was speculated that pollution-induced immunosuppression had playat:! a contributory role. Here we present results of a prospective study under semifield conditions, in which two groups of harbor seals (Phoca vitulina) were fed herring from marine regions with different contamination levels; the highly polluted Baltic Sea and the relatively unpolluted Atlantic Ocean. During a period of 93 weeks, parameters related to immune function were monitored and compared between the two groups. We found that natural killer-cell activity and mitogen-induced proliferative T -cell responses from the seals feeding on herring from the Baltic Sea were significantly lower. In addition, we observed higher levels of circulating polymorphonuclear granulocytes in these animals, which may indicate an increase in the occurrence of bacterial infections. This is the first demonstration of impaired immunological functions in mammals associated with chronic exposure to environmental contaminants accumulated through the marine food chain.

doi.org/10.1579/0044-7447-31.1.1, hdl.handle.net/1765/39869
Department of Virology

de Swart, R., Ross, P., Vedder, L., Timmerman, H., Heisterkamp, S., van Loveren, H., … Osterhaus, A. (1994). Impairment of Immune Function in Harbor Seals (Phoca vitulina) Feeding on Fish from Polluted Waters. Ambio, 23(2), 155–159. doi:10.1579/0044-7447-31.1.1