The experiment is led by Dr Rachael Gray, from the University of Sydney School of Veterinary Science.
“The Australian sea lion is an endangered species, in part due to historical sealing in the 19th century, where whole colonies were wiped out. The numbers of Australian sea lions haven’t recovered since humans ceased hunting them and numbers are actually declining,” Dr Gray said.
“Hookworm infects the intestines of 100 percent of the Australian sea lion pups, leaving them weak, anaemic and with blood in their faeces. Many pups die directly from the hookworm.
“Our trial is using a novel and minimally invasive treatment for hookworm in pinnipeds [fin-footed marine mammals], that we apply to the skin on the back of the neck, then monitor what effect it has on pup mortality.”
The trial is taking place over two breeding seasons at Kangaroo Island, South Australia. “We’re monitoring 180 sea lion pups, with half treated with ivermectin and half in the control group. We will monitor them for 18 months to see how the treatment not only improves pup health and growth, but also survival to breeding adult as part of a longer-term study. Hopefully this eventually aids the species’ population recovery.”