Epidemiological characteristics of skin disorders in cetaceans from South American waters


  • Marie-Francoise Elisabeth Van Bressem Cetacean Conservation Medicine Group (CMED), Centro Peruano de Estudios Cetológicos (CEPEC), Museo de Delfines
  • Leonardo Flach Instituto Boto Cinza
  • Julio César Reyes Áreas Costeras y Recursos Marinos (ACOREMA)
  • Mónica Echegaray Áreas Costeras y Recursos Marinos (ACOREMA)
  • Marcos Santos Laboratório de Biologia da Conservação de Mamíferos Aquáticos, Instituto Oceanográfico, Universidade de São Paulo
  • Francisco Viddi Instituto de Ciencias Marinas y Limnologicas, Universidad Austral de Chile; Centro Ballena Azul
  • Fernando Félix Museo de Ballenas
  • Liliane Lodi Projeto Golfinho-Flíper, Instituto Aqualie
  • Koen Van Waerebeek Cetacean Conservation Medicine Group (CMED), Centro Peruano de Estudios Cetológicos (CEPEC), Museo de Delfines




skin diseases, Delphinidae, South America, Megaptera novaeangliae, calf, mortality, contamination, epidemiology


We document the macroscopic phenotypic characteristics (relative size, location, pattern, colour, extension), prevalence and evolution of five types of skin disorders of unknown aetiology, including ‘green-brown plaques’ (GBP), ‘orange patches’ (OPA), ‘cutaneous nodules’ (NOD), ‘pale dermatitis’ (PAD) and ‘expansive annular lesions’ (EAL) in five odontocete species (n = 559 individuals) from the Southeast Pacific (n = 230) and Southwest Atlantic (n = 329) oceans. GBP affected two likely-adult Sotalia guianensis traveling side-by-side in a freshwater area of the Cananéia Estuary in August 2009. Low salinity is suggested as predisposing factor. OPA were distinguished in three of 209 (1.4%) free-ranging S. guianensis in Sepetiba Bay, Brazil, during winter months of 2005-2008. Epibiont diatoms are suspected aetiological agents. NOD were chronically present in one male adult Orcinus orca observed off the coast of southern Brazil in 2007-2010. PAD was seen in free-ranging individuals and carcasses of Tursiops truncatus, S. guianensis and Pseudorca crassidens from both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans in 1992 and in 2004-2009. Prevalence was 1% in 103 S. guianensis from Paranaguá Estuary (Brazil), 2.3% in 222 S. guianensis from Sepetiba Bay and 6.9% in 87 inshore T. truncatus from Paracas Bay, Peru. Although in some cases the lesions covered up to 35-40% of the visible body surface and ulcers may occur there was no evidence of mortality and, in time-series of six individuals, PAD eventually healed. In six T. truncatus and five S. guianensis acutely affected, PAD was associated with minor cutaneous injuries and scars, including tooth rakes, suggesting infection routes for opportunistic pathogens. EAL were noted in a Cephalorhynchus eutropia calf from Palena province, Chile, in 2003 and in a P. crassidens calf washed ashore dead in southern Brazil in 2009. The C. eutropia calf disappeared, and probably died, two weeks after first observation. Prevalence of EAL was 6.7% in 15 C. eutropia in 2002-2004. These data suggest that EAL are potentially lethal in calves. PAD and EAL were primarily seen in cetaceans inhabiting biologically or chemically contaminated nearshore waters. In view of their emergence and occasional severity these disorders should be the subject of systematic monitoring.


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