New Parasite Discovered to be Infecting Cod in Gulf of Maine

Gulf of Maine

BOSTON – September 1, 2010 A team of scientists led by Massachusetts Institute of Technology Sea Grant (MITSG) College Program today announced the discovery of a new, as-yet unidentified parasite that is infecting cod in the waters of the Gulf of Maine.

The parasite is a species of acanthocephalan, or spiny-headed worm. Heavily infected fish sicken and die, making the parasite a serious threat to cod populations.

The parasite was first discovered by local commercial cod fishermen, who began noticing the easily-seen parasite as soon as the Gulf of Maine multispecies fishery opened in spring 2010. “It would have been hard to miss, “said Jack Spade, commercial fisherman and member of the Cape Cod Commercial Hook Fisherman’s Association (CCCHA). “Those worms are bright yellow.”

MITSG is working with the local fishing community to map the prevalence and severity of infection of the new parasite. Several members of the CCCHA as well as fishermen in Gloucester and other Gulf of Maine ports are providing valuable data to researchers. If left unchecked, the parasite could severely curtail this year’s codfish catch, further damaging an already weakened commercial fishing sector. “We know we have a big role to play here,” said Mr. Spade, “and look forward to working with the researchers to get to the bottom of this.”

MITSC is collaborating with Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) parasitologists to identify the species and its native range and life cycle. Although unlikely, it is theoretically possible for humans who eat the infected cod to ingest the parasite and become infected themselves. “We do believe at this point that infection in humans is unlikely,” said EPA spokesperson Sharon McCoy. “The parasite is easily seen and it also lives in the body cavity of the fish, not in the muscle tissue.”

However, the Massachusetts Department of Public Health is looking into whether any sort of restrictions are called for. As with any potentially threat to the food supply, the DPH recommends limiting exposure to possibly infected cod, particularly for young children, those with weakened immune systems and frail elderly.  For the latest updates, check the Massachusetts DPH website. New Hampshire and Maine are not considering any public health actions at this time.

Scientists at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution are also involved in the effort to identify the parasite. Population modelers at the Woods Hole Center for Oceans and Human Health (WHCOHH) are developing projections for how the parasite may affect cod stocks in the near future. To protect consumers, and the livelihoods of fishermen from Maine to Massachusetts, researchers hope to be able to forecast where and when the parasite will next appear. And their work may also lead to answers as to what and why.

Scientists Dennis O’Leary and Zhuchen Le have developed a mathematical model of the parasite’s dynamics —a series of equations that captures the physical and biological factors involved in the movements of the parasite through the cod stocks in the Gulf of Maine.

GoM model 2

O’Leary and Le entered a range of factors into their model: the speeds and directions of ocean currents, water temperature and salinity, winds, surface heat exchanges, tides, river runoff, and the distribution and behavior of the parasite in the water. They also incorporated other computer models that describe waterborne nutrients, solar radiation, and large-scale motions in the North Atlantic Ocean.

“The beauty of a numerical model,” said O’Leary, “is that it can be used to investigate extraordinarily complex systems by posing the problem in terms of a few guiding principles expressed as mathematical equations.”

WHCOHH researchers regularly share their field observations and models with more than 80 coastal resource and fisheries managers in six states as well as federal entities like NOAA, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the Food and Drug Administration.

“Managers believe that a regional-scale, seasonal outlook can be useful in preparing for contingencies, ” said Dr. Judith Pederson of MITSG. ” This advanced warning, along with updates closer to and during the cod fishing season, can help state agencies prepare for monitoring and assessing public health risks, and also give fishermen the opportunity to shift the timing of their harvest.”  Area restaurants may also benefit from advance warnings by making contingency plans for seafood supplies.

WHCOHH is funded by the National Science Foundation and the National Institute for Envrionmental Health Sciences. Additional research is provided by the Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans, Maine Department of Marine Resources, New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services, Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries.

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Invitation- Hurricane Science and Education Symposium, New Orleans

The University of Rhode Island (URI) Graduate School of Oceanography (GSO) in partnership with the Louisiana State Museum (LSM) invite both formal and informal science educators to submit an application to participate in the Hurricane Science and Education Symposium to be held at Tulane University in New Orleans, LA, on October 25, 2010. Airfare, meals, and lodging costs for formal an informal science educators will be covered by a grant from the National Science Foundation and support from the Louisiana State Museum.

The symposium is being planned as part of the launch events for a new comprehensive website, Hurricanes: Science and Society (to be launched on October 25, 2010), and a new exhibition at the Louisiana State Museum in New Orleans (to be opened on October 26, 2010). Participants in the Symposium will end the day at an evening reception at the Museum for a preview of the exhibition, Living with Hurricanes: Katrina and Beyond.

If you are interested in participating in the Hurricane Science and Education Symposium, please go to the following link to submit an application:

The application deadline is July 27, 2010. We will be selecting the participants and announcing the results in mid-August. Please feel free to forward this message to your colleagues.

Contact for further information: Holly Morin, email:

Call for Papers Place-Based Learning Symposium: December 1-3

Place-Based Learning connects students to their immediate surroundings and heritage.  This method, sometimes called “pedagogy of place” allows individuals to teach and learn through observation and doing, using personally relevant resources as the context for their academic growth.  Place-Based Learning brings forth several questions. How does Place-Based Learning compare to other models of teaching?   Is it the best method to reach today’s youth?  How do we evaluate its effectiveness?  Can informal learning centers be leaders in the creation and promotion of effective Place-Based Learning programs?

In an effort to explore best practices by leading educational and cultural institutions nationwide, the New Bedford ECHO Project invites proposals for presentations and papers on Place-Based Learning to be delivered at a symposium held in New Bedford, MA on December 1-3, 2010.  The symposium will focus on four main themes:  Leveraging regional success stories on a national scale; Successful Place-Based Learning programs and partnerships;  How standardization of the current educational system creates disparities in the educational attainment of native/underserved/minority students; Value and shortcomings of Place-Based Learning including assessment and evaluation

The New Bedford ECHO Project (NBEP), a combined effort from the New Bedford Whaling Museum and the New Bedford Ocean Explorium, works locally with the New Bedford Whaling National Historical Park, and our ECHO partners in Alaska, Hawaii, Massachusetts and Mississippi to address the educational needs of our respective populations. Through its focus on history, culture, arts and environment the NBEP, allows students and educators alike to engage in a variety of content and context based teaching and learning opportunities. Examples include the Whaling Museum’s popular history, language arts and culture based school programs, the Ocean Explorium’s Enviro-Lab, which allows school and youth groups a chance to go out into Buzzard’s Bay for hands-on research and the New Bedford Whaling National Historical Park’s “From Hampton to New Bedford: A Network of Freedom” program which is a set of curriculum-based activities and materials that brings the story of the Underground Railroad to life.

Submissions should broadly fit into one or more of the above themes.  Presentations should be submitted as an article for review and publication in symposium proceedings. All submissions should follow the style outlined in the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association (2001, 5th edition). Submit proposals to: Sara Meirowitz c/o New Bedford ECHO Project at 18 Johnny Cake Hill, New Bedford, MA 02740. Web:  Proposals should be submitted in abstract form (less than 100 words) and are due by July 31, 2010. Honoraria and travel stipends may be available.

Field Guide Design Help Needed

The Encyclopedia of Life is looking for your feedback and ideas on this new tool that will enable anyone to build a custom field guide.
Check out our prototype field guides here:
Please contribute to the design process by completing this short survey:

Stellwagen Management Plan Released

On June 17 th , NOAA released the final management plan for Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary, which will guide the sanctuary’s resource protection and conservation efforts over the next five years. Copies of the management plan on CD may be requested by calling 781-545-8026 or via email at The plan may also be downloaded from the sanctuary’s website, The full NOAA News Release is available online.

Invitation to Apply to Contribute to Climate Literacy Project

You are invited to apply to serve as a consultant to an NSF-funded climate education project. Teachers and faculty who are selected to be in the consultant network will receive $225 for their participation.  Whether you are interested in participating in our consultant network or not, we ask for about 5 minutes of your time. Your responses will help us better support teachers and college instructors who teach about climate science and energy awareness. Click this link to access the application form:

Stellwagen Bank Marine Sanctuary Management Plan

NOAA released the final management plan for Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary today.  Based on years of scientific study and developed with extensive public input, the new management plan focuses on key issues affecting the sanctuary, including ecosystem alteration, wildlife disturbance, vessel traffic and its potential threat to marine mammals, water quality and invasive species.  The plan will guide the sanctuary’s resource protection and conservation efforts over the next five years.

The management plan is posted on the sanctuary’s website at

Oil Spill Resources from NMEA

To participate in a general discussion about the oil spill visit the new Bridge Ocean Science Education Blog:

To find and share relevant educational resources visit the Bridge:

To nominate a relevant web site for inclusion on the Bridge:


NMEA News, the National Marine Educators Association’s newsletter, keeps members up-to-date with news from regional chapters and committees, information about professional development opportunities, and communications from NMEA leadership.  NMEA News is being published exclusively online.  NMEA News, Volume 26, Issue 2, Spring 2010, is available at or by visiting (click on the “view current issue of NMEA News” link).   Online issues will be available for downloading from four times each year, i.e., mid-March, mid-June, mid-September, and mid-December.  The online publication of NMEA News will conserve our natural resources and provide additional funding for NMEA Annual Conference Scholarships.