Whirling Disease
Whirling Disease

Whirling Disease

Parks Canada has temporarily closed all waterbodies and shorelines in Yoho National Park and Kootenay National Park until March 31st in response to the discovery of a suspected case of whirling disease. Officials say they are monitoring the lakes and rivers within both parks for the potential parasitic infestation that has the capacity to severely impact as much as 90% of young trout and salmon populations.

Whirling disease entered the United States from Europe in the 1950s and was first detected in Canada in 2016 in Banff, Alberta. On September 20, 2023, a suspected case of whirling disease was identified in Emerald Lake, Yoho National Park, marking the first reported occurrence of this disease in British Columbia. To contain its potential spread, Parks Canada took immediate action, temporarily closing off access to Emerald Lake, Peaceful Pond, Lone Duck Pond, and Emerald River until further notice. Further sampling was conducted indicating suspected cases of whirling disease in the Kicking Horse River, Wapta Lake, Finn Creek, Monarch Creek, and the confluence of the Emerald River and the Kicking Horse River.

The Government of Canadian explains that whirling disease does not pose any direct risk to humans, but it can be detrimental to finfish such as trout, salmon, and whitefish. It is caused by the parasite Myxobolus cerebralis and is transmitted through contact between finfish and a freshwater worm known as Tubifex tubifex. Infection can cause skeletal deformities, dark or black tails, and an erratic “whirling” swimming pattern caused by damage to the nervous system from the parasite. This limits the fish’s ability to feed, avoid predators, and reproduce, ultimately leading to mortality and decline of salmonid populations. This effects the aquatic ecosystem balance, impacts the recreational fishing industry and tourism. There is no treatment for whirling disease, and it spreads by humans through the transport of infected live or dead fish, contaminated worms, equipment, or water sources.

Here are some things that you can do to help stop the spread:

  • Clean, Drain and Dry when moving between water bodies. This includes all watercraft, trailers, motors, paddlecraft, floaties, fishing gear and any equipment that has contact with the water.
  • Remember that the disease can live in mud and water.
  • Remember that the disease can be transported through contaminated mud, aquatic plants, and aquatic animals.
  • Never transport or release fish, plants, or animals from one water body to the next
  • Do not introduce live fish from another country into the natural waters of Canada.
  • Do not use fish that were bought in a grocery store as bait for fishing.
  • When cleaning and gutting fish, dispose of all waste in your municipal garbage.

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