Prevalence and Abundance of Cyamid “Whale Lice” (<i>Cyamus ceti</i>) on Subsistence Harvested Bowhead Whales (<i>Balaena mysticetus</i>)

  • Andrew L. Von Duyke
  • Raphaela Stimmelmayr
  • Gay Sheffield
  • Todd Sformo
  • Geof H. Givens
  • John C. George
Keywords: cyamid, whale lice, Cyamus ceti, ectoparasite, bowhead whale, Balaena mysticetus, Arctic, Bering Sea, Chukchi Sea, Beaufort Sea


We present findings on the prevalence and abundance of cyamid ectoparasites (Cyamus ceti) or “whale lice” on bowhead whales (Balaena mysticetus) harvested for subsistence in the Bering, Chukchi, and Beaufort Seas from 1973 to 2015. Cyamids were present on 20% of the 673 whales that were examined for cyamid ectoparasites. Logistic regression was used to determine factors associated with cyamid prevalence. The probability of cyamid presence increased with age, length, and improving body condition, but decreased over the past 35 years. Cyamid presence was also more probable on whales harvested in the spring than on those harvested in the fall. When present, cyamid abundance was typically low(< 10 per whale). Case histories provide ancillary information about the relationships between abundance of cyamids and their bowhead hosts. Environmental change and increasing anthropogenic disturbances are expected to occur in the Arctic regions inhabited by bowheads. We recommend continued monitoring of subsistence harvested whales for cyamids, as well as further investigations into the roles of environmental and anthropogenic variables in cyamid prevalence and abundance, as part of a comprehensive program of Arctic ecosystem assessment.