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October 26, 2001

The Worms'Turn

What kind of worms live inside the stomachs of dolphins?

Q: Last summer I was cleaning some large dolphin and found numerous worms in their stomachs. These parasites were red-tan in color, ranged from 1 to 3 inches in length, and were about 1/16-inch in diameter. They were not in the flesh of the fish. What are they, and are they harmful to humans? - Pat Dorion, Bloomsburg, Pennsylvania

A: They're nematodes or roundworms, says Dave Zwerner, fish parasitologist at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science. The dolphin probably got the parasitic worms by eating another fish that hosted the larval form of the worm in its flesh. The worms growing in the dolphin's stomach and intestines are the adult form of the parasite, and the dolphin is its final host. Most parasitic worms tend to be quite host-specific, and it's unlikely that a worm adapted to living in a fish could live in a warm-blooded mammal such as a human. In any case, the adult worms do not affect the dolphin's flesh, so the meat of the dolphin is safe to eat. However, parasitologists recommend eating all seafood cooked, not raw, just to be safe.