There are approximately 3,000 southern sea otters (Enhydra lutris nereis) in the nearshore environment along the California coast, US, and the species is classified as Threatened under the Endangered Species Act. We tested sera from 661 necropsied southern sea otters sampled from 1997 to 2015 to determine overall exposure to influenza A viruses (IAVs) and to identify subtype-specific antibody responses. Using an enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA), antibodies to IAV nucleoproteins were detected in 160 (24.2%) otters, with seropositive animals found in every year except 2008. When the ELISA-positive samples were tested by virus microneutralization, antibody responses were detected to avian-origin hemagglutinin subtypes H1, H3, H4, H5, H6, H7, H9, and H11. Strong antibody responses to pandemic H1N1 (pdmH1N1) were also detected, indicating that epizootic transmission of pdmH1N1 occurred among the southern sea otter population after the emergence of this human-origin virus in 2009. We conclude that southern sea otters are susceptible to infection with avian and human-origin IAV and that exposure to a wide array of subtypes likely occurs during a given otter's 10- to 15-yr life span. Important unanswered questions include what effect, if any, IAV infection has on sea otter health, and how these animals become infected in their nearshore environment.
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Vol. 53 • No. 4