Salmonella is a genus of zoonotic bacteria that can infect a variety of animals, and may cause gastrointestinal disease in marine mammals. Many of the same Salmonella serotypes are shed by California sea lions (Zalophus californianus) and humans, which poses transmission questions and public health concerns. In this study, 454 fecal samples from three free-ranging California sea lion populations along the California coast and from animals undergoing rehabilitation at The Marine Mammal Center, Sausalito, California, were screened for the presence of Salmonella. In addition to fecal samples, 39 presumed vomitus samples were collected and processed. Of the 454 samples processed, 312 were from free-ranging sites and 142 were from rehabilitating California sea lions. A total of nine fecal samples were positive for Salmonella, yielding a 2.0% overall prevalence, as well as two presumed vomitus samples (5.1% prevalence). Salmonella shedding prevalence was 1.6% in samples collected from free-ranging animals, and 2.8% in rehabilitating animals. Four serotypes were found among the 11 positive samples, with Salmonella Enteritidis the most prevalent (64%). Antimicrobial resistance testing and pulsed-field gel electrophoresis were performed to further characterize isolates. Experiments were carried out to determine the minimal number of Salmonella required for detection by the methods used. It was determined that at least 101 colony-forming units per gram of feces was required for detection. The prevalence of Salmonella Enteritidis, and diversity of serotypes discovered is considerably different from those reported in previous studies. Overall, this study provides new insights into the epidemiology of Salmonella in California sea lions present in multi-use coastal ecosystems.
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