02/17/2014 03:19 EST | Updated 04/19/2014 05:59 EDT

Seal Parasite That Killed Hundreds Off Cape Breton Identified

VANCOUVER - Researchers at the University of British Columbia say they have identified the parasite that killed hundreds of seals off Cape Breton in 2012.

Michael Grigg, a molecular parasitologist and adjunct professor at the school, says a new strain of sarcocystis is responsible for the deaths of 406 grey seals on Hay Island in February 2012.

In a release on the university's website, Grigg says the strain of parasite is not harmful to humans but has killed an endangered Steller sea lion, seals, walruses, and polar and grizzly bears.

Scientists had previously thought a parasite was responsible for the grey seal deaths, but had not identified it.

Grigg and his colleagues presented the findings at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science last week, saying that the disappearance of ice is exposing various mammals to new pathogens.

They also say they found for the first time an infectious form of a cat parasite in western Arctic belugas that can cause blindness and fetal abortions in people.

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