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Whirling Disease -Three Simple Steps to Help Stop the Spread.

Category: Plan + Prepare, Plants + Animals

If you enjoy paddling, fishing and building sandcastles at Johnson Lake in Banff National Park, you need to be aware of a pesky microscopic bacteria discovered there in 2016 and how to stop the spread to other bodies of water.

Clean All Your Gear

  • If you walked through any streams or bodies of water during your hike, be sure to remove all plant material, sand, and mud from the bottom of your hiking boots before you leave the area.  
  • Before you take any of your gear into another body of water, be sure to wash all items or equipment (paddles, fishing lures, water shoes, sand buckets — you get the idea) ideally with hot water (around 90 degrees Celsius – “HOT!”). 
  • If hot water is unavailable, high-pressure water will do 

Drain The Water From Any Equipment

  • Drain all the water, as best as you can, from rafts, sand pails, kayaks, into the same body of water
  • Don’t drain it into a new body of water

Dry it out for 24 hours

  • After you have washed and cleaned everything
  • Before you visit another body of water

Respect restrictions 

  • Alberta Parks or Parks Canada will prohibit water-based recreation in an affected area
  • Restrictions will be posted on-line and at affected bodies of water
  • Keep current on restrictions

Complete the Watercraft and Gear Certification Forms

  • Many of the popular lakes now have Watercraft and Gear Certification Stations 
  • Complete the form and leave it at the station help parks monitor were watercraft has been

Don’t forget to wipe Fido’s feet!

  • If hiking with a dog, be sure to wipe your pet’s paws and body as well
  • All of that fur is a magnet for the mud that houses the parasite!
  • And wipe off the bottom of any shoes that have been in the water

Whirling Disease is Not Just in Banff

Initially, Parks Canada was hopeful that Johnson Lake was the only water body affected. Unfortunately, Whirling Disease continues to spread and has been discovered in the following four significant watersheds in Alberta:

  • Bow River
  • North Saskatchewan
  • Old Man River
  • Red Deer River

Even though Whirling Disease is benign to humans and other mammals, responsible hikers, paddlers and anglers should know about the disease and what we can do to help preserve the fish populations and the ecosystems around the trails that we love. 

A Microscopic Parasite

Whirling disease is caused by a microscopic parasite, Myxobolus cerebralis, that lives in the muddy bottom of lakes and rivers. It is transported when the mud gets disturbed and attaches to anything in the water at the time. This disease results in irreparable damage to both the skeleton and neurological pathways, causing the infected fish to “whirl in circles,” which makes it difficult for them to find or catch their food and escape predators. 

infographic of whirling disease
infographic located at Johnson Lake, Banff National Park

Does it affect everyone?

It seems to only affect salmonid fish, such as Rainbow and West Slope Cutthroat Trout, the very fish that are most popular with anglers.  It does NOT affect humans or dogs.

Enjoy your water sports and remember to Clean, Drain and Dry all equipment.

Happy Hiking!

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