Diseased Whales: Can Whales Get Rabies? (Answered!)

can whales get rabies

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Whilst “can whales get rabies?” may seem like a silly question to many, it’s actually not as random as you might think.

YES, whales can get rabies. It’s incredibly rare as whales live in the ocean and are unlikely to be bitten by any land-dwelling animals, but it is possible.

It is incredibly unlikely, but there are some extraordinary circumstances that could happen that may result in a whale contracting rabies.

In this post, we’re going to go through everything you need to know about how whales can get rabies, what happens if they contract rabies, whether or not it’s common, and more.

Let’s get to it…

Can Whales Really Get Rabies?

Whales can get rabies, but as they are unlikely to come into contact with a terrestrial animal that has rabies, the likelihood is almost non-existent.

Dogs, bats, raccoons, foxes, cats, and coyotes are among the animals that are most likely to contract rabies, and it’s highly improbable that any of these animals would get the opportunity to infect a whale.

It’s also worth noting that there are currently no recorded cases of rabies in a whale, in fact, there’s only one documented case of rabies in a seal which was a ringed seal caught in 1980.

How Could A Whale Get Rabies?

Whilst a rabid whale is extremely unlikely, there are a set of circumstances that could lead to a whale contracting rabies.

A whale would need to be bitten by a marine mammal that already had rabies, such as a polar bear, seal, sea lion, walrus, or other in order to contract the disease.

And for a whale to be bitten by a marine mammal with rabies, the mammal would need to be bitten by an animal that already has rabies, such as a dog or fox.

For example, if a fox with rabies decided to bite a seal, and then the rabid seal decided to bite a whale – this would lead to the whale contracting rabies.

Whales are typically off the menu for all of the above animals, but animals with rabies can behave erratically, so it could happen.

It’s improbable that a seal would be able to pierce through the thick blubber of a whale to transfer the disease to the whale’s bloodstream.

It would also be very unlikely that a terrestrial animal with rabies would come into contact with any animal that could get close enough to a whale to bite it.

Hypothetically if the whale did contract rabies, the disease wouldn’t travel very far as many whales lack teeth and are not designed to attack other marine animals.

If the disease made it into a pod of killer whales (Orca), then the disease may be transmitted to other species such as dolphins.

As you can see, these sets of circumstances are very unusual and would be very rare to actually play out, almost non-existent.

Is It Common For Whales To Get Rabies?

No, it is not common for whales to get rabies. The situation of events that would need to happen is extremely unlikely.

There has not yet been a single case reported of rabies in whales, largely down to the fact that the animals that have rabies are so far removed from all whale species.

Whales live in the ocean, whilst animals that contract and pass rabies live on land.

What Happens If A Whale Gets Rabies?

If a whale did contract rabies, the disease would interfere with the animal’s nervous system and cause the whale to exhibit erratic behavior.

The whale may have trouble with navigation or lose its ability to swim altogether. This could lead to the whale becoming beached and ultimately drowning.

A rabid whale would struggle to catch food, as it would start to lose its motor skills and be unable to coordinate.

Some species such as humpback whales use techniques like “bubble-netting” which require sophisticated coordination to be successful.

These types of techniques would be out of the question for a whale with rabies, and the whale would likely starve to death or drown soon after contracting rabies.

Final Thoughts

Whales are some of the most intelligent animals in our oceans. They have complex social structures, large brains, and the ability to cover vast distances to feed and mate.

However, even these ocean giants are not free from the risk of disease, and yes, that does include rabies.

Whilst it would be near impossible for a whale to catch rabies, through a series of highly unlikely events it could happen.

Hopefully, you now have a clear answer to your question “can whales get rabies?”

If you have enjoyed this post, feel free to stick around to learn more about whales and lots of other marine wildlife that we discuss here.

See you in the next one!