Fin and sperm whale Mediterranean populations are classified respectively as vulnerable and endangered in the International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List and potentially threatened by both infectious diseases and anthropogenic factors. Parasites, bacteria, as well as organic and inorganic pollutants, are considered among the main causes of whale’s death or factors predisposing them to other pathologies. To date, most of the investigations on these species have been carried out on stranded and dead whales and performed by necropsy, occasionally providing information on the death causes. Nowadays, data on health status in free-living whales are limited, mainly due to both the difficulty and the high costs of sampling. In order to get information on the health status of fin and sperm whales living in the Pelagos Sanctuary, a preliminary, multidisciplinary study was carried out analysing three faecal samples (2 samples from fin whales and 1 sample from sperm whale) collected with a non-invasive sampling method in the framework of a 30-years long research project on the ecology of these two populations. Each faecal sample underwent parasitological, microbiological and chemical analysis. Results revealed that fin and sperm whales harbour Blastocystis sp., a protozoan parasite with an anthropozoonotic potential, which was never recorded before in these species. Furthermore, a more diverse bacterial community and a higher concentration of heavy metals ( i.e., As, Co, Hg) were found in the sperm whale sample compared to fin whale ones, while the concentration of 16 EPA PAHs and 21 PCBs was <2 ppb in all tested samples. This preliminary study represents the first report of a multidisciplinary approach in live whales investigation, and may provide a baseline for both future monitoring studies on the relationships between health status and anthropogenic pressure, and the development of effective conservation plan for these species in the Mediterranean Sea.
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