Plagues and disease don’t seem to spare wildlife. A new case of fish disease was detected with whitefish in the Yellowstone River. Because of the lethal parasite attacking the fish, vast areas of the Yellowstone River were closed (180 miles).
Specialists are shocked at the damages made by the parasite. They believe the disease is so strong because the river has low discharge. In addition to that, climate change affected the water temperature, which is now warmer than usual. This might also have allowed the parasite to install and be so effective against the fish population. So far, thousands of whitefish have been killed by the disease.
Researchers also observed that the virus works differently function of the river it installs into. Rivers with cooler water and dam control discharge may be safer for fish. One of this types of rivers is Madison River, where the disease didn’t cause such severe damages.
Similar outbreaks occurred in 2011 and 2012 when whitefish population was affected by diseases, but, again, the situation was not as severe as it is now with the Yellowstone River. Large areas of the water flow were closed, which is approximately 180 miles.
The closure of this sector of the river affects several service business relying on it. Governor Steve Bullock talked about the situation caused by the fish disease:
“We need to make sure we are not only protecting this watershed and this water but indeed our entire state.”
The closure of the 180 miles of the Yellowstone River is a partial, temporal measure. It will last only for 120 days. Further re-examination will be carried out and only afterward will researchers be able to determine whether the closure will be permanent or need to be enlarged.
Specialists discovered that the parasite first needs a sponge-like host, which is a Bryozoan. This organism releases the parasite in the water, and then it contacts the fish. After analyzing the infected fish, researchers have reasons to believe the parasite developed a local version. Specialists Eileen Ryce (Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks) declared the following:
“What we mean by that is that the immune response that the fish are expressing would suggest that they have not been exposed to this parasite previously. That has concerned us since it would suggest it’s a new infection. At least we haven’t seen anything on this scale previously.”
Image courtesy of: Wikipedia