Respiratory Microbiome of Endangered Southern Resident Killer Whales and Microbiota of Surrounding Sea Surface Microlayer in the Eastern North Pacific
In the Salish Sea, the endangered Southern Resident Killer Whale (SRKW) is a high trophic indicator of ecosystem health. Three major threats have been identified for this population: reduced prey availability, anthropogenic contaminants, and marine vessel disturbances. These perturbations can culminate in significant morbidity and mortality, usually associated with secondary infections that have a predilection to the respiratory system. To characterize the composition of the respiratory microbiota and identify recognized pathogens of SRKW, exhaled breath samples were collected between 2006–2009 and analyzed for bacteria, fungi and viruses using (1) culture-dependent, targeted PCR-based methodologies and (2) taxonomically broad, non-culture dependent PCR-based methodologies. Results were compared with sea surface microlayer (SML) samples to characterize the respective microbial constituents. An array of bacteria and fungi in breath and SML samples were identified, as well as microorganisms that exhibited resistance to multiple antimicrobial agents. The SML microbes and respiratory microbiota carry a pathogenic risk which we propose as an additional, fourth putative stressor (pathogens), which may adversely impact the endangered SRKW population.