, Volume 39, Issue 7, pp 455–462 | Cite as

Prevalence of Epidermal Conditions in California Coastal Bottlenose Dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) in Monterey Bay

  • Daniela Maldini
  • Jessica Riggin
  • Arianna Cecchetti
  • Mark P. Cotter


The prevalence of epidermal conditions in a small population of coastal bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) in Monterey Bay was evaluated between 2006 and 2008. Five different skin condition categories were considered, including Pox-Like Lesions, Discoloration, Orange Film, Polygon Lesions, and Miscellaneous Markings. Of 147 adults and 42 calves photographically examined, at least 90 and 71%, respectively, were affected by at least one or multiple conditions. Pox-Like Lesions were the most prevalent, affecting 80% of the population, including adults and calves. This condition warrants the most urgent investigation being possibly indicative of the widespread presence of poxvirus or a similar pathogen in the population. In view of the high number of individuals affected, standard monitoring of the health status of Monterey Bay bottlenose dolphins is considered imperative. Discoloration was strongly associated with Pox-Like lesions. Orange Films were likely an epifaunal infestation caused by diatoms, which have been documented in other cetacean species. Polygon Lesions, a newly described category, could be the result of infestation by barnacles of the genus Cryptolepas. Miscellaneous Markings were variable in appearance and may not have the same causative factor. Although none of the proposed etiologies can be confirmed without appropriate clinical tests, recognizing common visible characteristics of the conditions could aid in preliminary comparisons across populations and individuals.


Epidermal conditions Bottlenose dolphin Tursiops truncatus California Health Lesions 



We would like to acknowledge the contributions of Cyndi Browning, Alessandro Ponzo, and Gary Haskins to the completion of this manuscript. We also would like to thank all Earthwatch volunteers who participated in our project for their help with data entry. We are grateful to Dave Casper, Frances Gulland, and Hendrik Nollens for their suggestions and veterinary expertise. We thank two anonymous reviewers for their pertinent and helpful comments. Partial funding for this study was provided by Earthwatch Institute and by an anonymous donor. Jessica Riggin was supported by the National Science Foundation under the CSU-LSANP Senior Alliance Project (NSF Grant #HRD-0802628).


  1. Addison, R.F., and P.F. Brodie. 1987. Transfer of organochlorine residues from blubber through the circulatory system in milk in the lactating grey seal, Halichoerus grypus. Canadian Journal of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences 44: 782–786.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Aguilar, A., and A. Borrell. 1994. Abnormally high polychlorinated biphenyl levels in striped dolphins (Stenella coeruleoalba) affected by the 1990–1992 Mediterranean epizootic. Science of the Total Environment 154: 237–247.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Bearzi, M., S. Rapoport, J. Chau, and C. Saylan. 2009. Skin lesions and physical deformities of coastal and offshore common bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) in Santa Monica Bay and adjacent areas, California. Ambio 38(2): 66–71.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Becher, P., M. Konig, G. Muller, U. Siebert, and H.J. Thiel. 2002. Characterization of sealpox virus, a separate member of the parapoxviruses. Archives of Virology 147: 1133–1140.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Borrell, A., D. Block, and G. Desportes. 1995. Age trends and reproductive transfer of organochlorine compounds in long-finned pilot whales from the Faroe Islands. Environmental Pollution 88: 283–292.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Breaker, L.C., and W.W. Broenkow. 1994. The circulation of Monterey Bay and related processes. Oceanography and Marine Biology 32: 1–64.Google Scholar
  7. Brownell, Jr., R.L., C.A. Carlson, B.G. Vernazzani, and E. Cabrera. 2007. Skin lesions on blue whales off southern Chile: possible conservation implications? International Whaling Commission Report SC/59/SH21.Google Scholar
  8. Defran, R.H., and D.W. Weller. 1999. Occurrence, distribution, site fidelity and school size of bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) off San Diego, California. Marine Mammal Science 15: 366–380.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Dierauf, L.A., and F.M.D. Gulland. 2001. CRC handbook of marine mammal medicine. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. DeGuise, S., D. Martineau, P. Beiand, and M. Fourniere. 1995. Possible mechanisms of action of environmental contaminants on St. Lawrence beluga whales (Delphinapterus leucas). Environmental Health Perspectives 103(4): 73–77.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Dudzik, K.J., K.M. Baker, and D.W. Weller. 2006. Mark-recapture abundance estimate of California coastal stock bottlenose dolphins: February 2004 to April 2005. SWFSC Administrative Report LJ-06-02C, Southwest Fisheries Science Center, 8604 La Jolla Shores Drive, La Jolla, CA 92037, USA, 15 pp.Google Scholar
  12. Feinholz, D.M. 1996. Pacific coastal bottlenose dolphins in Monterey Bay, California. M.S. Thesis, Moss Landing Marine Laboratories, San Jose State University.Google Scholar
  13. Feltz, T.E., and F.H. Fay. 1996. Thermal requirements in vitro of epidermal cells from seals. Cryobiology 3: 261–264.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Flom, J.O., and E.J. Hoek. 1979. Morphologic evidence of poxvirus in tattoo lesions from captive bottlenosed dolphins. Journal of Wildlife Diseases 15: 593–596.Google Scholar
  15. George, J.C., L.M. Philo, K. Hazard, D. Withrow, G.M. Carroll, and R. Suydam. 1994. Frequency of killer-whale (Orcinus orca) attack and ship collisions based on scarring on bowhead whales (Balaena mysticetus) off the Bering-Chukchi-Beaufort Sea stock. Arctic 47: 247–255.Google Scholar
  16. Geraci, J.R., B.D. Hicks, and D.J. St.Aubin. 1979. Dolphin pox: A skin disease of cetaceans. Canadian Journal of Comparative Medicine 43: 399–404.Google Scholar
  17. Greenwood, A.G., R.J. Harrison, and H.W. Whitting. 1974. Functional and pathological aspects of the skin of marine mammals. In Functional anatomy of marine mammals, ed. R.J. Harrison, 73–110. New York: Academic Press.Google Scholar
  18. Hart, T.J. 1935. On the diatoms of the skin film of whales and their possible bearing on problems of whale movement. Discovery Reports 10: 247–282.Google Scholar
  19. Hartwell, S.I. 2008. Distribution of DDT and other persistent organic contaminants in canyons and on the continental shelf off the central California coast. Marine Environmental Research 65: 199–217.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Heithaus, M.R. 2001. Shark attacks on bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops aduncus) in Shark Bay, Western Australia: Attack rate, bite scar frequencies, and attack seasonality. Marine Mammal Science 17: 526–539.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Holmes, R.W. 1985. The morphology of diatoms epizoic on cetaceans and their transfer from Cocconeis to two genera, Bennettella and Epipellis. British Phycological Journal 20: 43–57.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Holmes, R.W., and S. Nagasawa. 1995. Bennettella constricta (Nemoto-Holmes) and Bennettella berardii sp. nov. (Bacillariophyceae: Chrysophyta) as observed on the skin of several cetacean species. Bulletin of the National Science Museum Series B 21: 29–43.Google Scholar
  23. Holmes, R.W., S. Nagasawa, and H. Takano. 1993. The morphology and geographic distribution of epidermal diatoms of the Dall’s porpoise (Phocoenoides dalli) in the northern Pacific ocean. Bulletin of the National Science Museum, Tokyo, Series B 19(1): 1–18.Google Scholar
  24. Kannan, N., S. Tanabe, M. Ono, and R. Tatsukawa. 1989. Critical evaluation of polychlorinated biphenyls toxicity in terrestrial and marine mammals: Increasing impact of non-ortho and mono-ortho coplanar polychlorinated biphenyls from land to ocean. Archives of Environmental and Contamination Toxicology 18: 850–857.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Levin, M., B. Morsey, and S. De Guise. 2007. Non-coplanar PCBs induce calcium mobilization in bottlenose dolphin and beluga whale, but not in mouse leukocytes. Journal of Toxicology and Environmental Health A 70: 1220–1231.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Mazzoil, M., S.D. McCulloch, R.H. Defran, and M.E. Murdoch. 2004. Use of digital photography and analysis of dorsal fins for photo-identification of bottlenose dolphins. Aquatic Mammals 30: 209–219.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. McCann, C. 1974. Body scarring on cetacean-odontocetes. Scientific Report Whales Research Institute 26: 145–155.Google Scholar
  28. Meyer, W., and U. Seegers. 2004. A preliminary approach to epidermal antimicrobial defense in the Delphinidae. Marine Biology 144: 841–844.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Meyer, W., J.E. Kloepper, and L.G. Fleisher. 2008. Demonstration of B-glucan receptors in the skin of aquatic mammals—A preliminary report. European Journal of Wildlife Research. doi: 10.1007/s10344-008-0173.
  30. Morejohn, G.V. 1980. The natural history of the Dall’s porpoise in the North Pacific Ocean. In Behaviour of marine animals, ed. H.E. Winn, and B.L. Olla, 45–83. New York: Plenum Press.Google Scholar
  31. Muller, G., S. Groters, U. Siebert, T. Rosenberger, J. Driver, M. Konig, P. Becher, U. Hetzel, and W. Baumgartner. 2003. Parapox infection in harbor seals (Phoca vitulina) from the German North Sea. Veterinary Pathology 40: 445–454.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Nemoto, T. 1956. On the diatoms of the skin film of whales in the northern Pacific. Scientific Report of the Whales Research institute 11: 97–132.Google Scholar
  33. Nemoto, T., P.B. Best, K. Ishimaru, and H. Takano. 1980. Diatom films on whales in South African waters. Scientific Report of the Whales Research institute 32: 97–103.Google Scholar
  34. National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS). 2008. California coastal bottlenose dolphin stock assessment report. Accessed 24 March 2010.
  35. Okuno, H. 1954. Electron-microscopical study on Antarctic diatoms (6). Observations on Cocconeis ceticola forming ‘diatom film’ on whale skin. Journal of Japanese Botany 29: 271–277.Google Scholar
  36. Pettis, H.M., R.M. Rolland, P.K. Hamilton, S. Brault, A.R. Knowlton, and S.D. Kraus. 2004. Visual health assessment of North Atlantic right whales (Eubalena glacialis) using photographs. Canadian Journal of Zoology 82: 8–19.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Reif, J., M.M. Peden-Adams, T.A. Romano, C.D. Rice, P.A. Fair, and G.D. Bossart. 2009. Immune dysfunction in Atlantic bottlenose dolphins (Tusiops truncatus) with lobomycosis. Medical Mycology 47(2): 125–135.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Ridgway, S.H., E. Lindner, K.A. Mahoney, and W.A. Newman. 1997. Gray whale barnacles Cryptolepas rhachianecti infest white whales, Delphinapterus leucas, housed in San Diego Bay. Bulletin of Marine Science 61(2): 377–385.Google Scholar
  39. Ross, P., R. de Swart, R. Addison, H. Van Loveren, J. Vos, and A. Osterhaus. 1996. Contaminant-induced immunotoxicity in harbour seals: Wildlife at risk? Toxicology 112(2): 157–169.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Ross, P.S., G.M. Ellisa, M.G. Ikonomou, l.G. Barrett-Lennard, and R.F. Addison. 2000. High PCB concentrations in free-ranging pacific killer whales, Orcinus orca: Effects of age, sex and dietary preference. Marine Pollution Bulletin 40(6): 504–515.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Samaras, W.F. 1989. New host record for the barnacle Cryptolepas rhachianecti Dall 1872 (Balanomorpha: Coronulidae). Marine Mammal Science 5(1): 84–87.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Schulman, F.Y., and T.P. Lipscomb. 1999. Dermatitis with invasive ciliated protozoa in dolphins that died during the 1987–1988 Atlantic bottlenose dolphin morbilliviral epizootic. Veterinary Pathology 36: 71–174.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Scott, E.M., J. Mann, J.J. Watson-Capps, B.L. Sargeant, and R.C. Connor. 2005. Aggression in bottlenose dolphins: Evidence for sexual coercion, male-male competition, and female tolerance through analysis of tooth-rake marks and behaviour. Behaviour 142: 21–44.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Simpson, C.F., F.G. Wood, and F. Young. 1958. Cutaneous lesions on a porpoise with Erysipelas. Journal of American Veterinary Medical Association 133: 558–560.Google Scholar
  45. Smith, A.W., D.E. Skilling, and S. Ridgway. 1983. Calicivirus-induced vesicular disease in cetaceans and probable interspecies transmission. Journal of American Veterinary Medical Association 183: 1223–1225.Google Scholar
  46. Sweeney, J.C., and S.H. Ridgway. 1975. Common diseases of small cetaceans. JAVMA 167: 533–540.Google Scholar
  47. Usachev, P.I. 1940. The overgrowing of whales with diatoms. Zoologikal Zhurnal 19: 306–312.Google Scholar
  48. Van Bressem, M.F., and K. Van Waerebeek. 1996. Epidemiology of poxvirus in small cetaceans from the Eastern South Pacific. Marine Mammal Science 12: 371–382.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Van Bressem, M.F., K. Van Waerebeek, J.K. Reyes, D. Dekegel, and P.P. Pastoret. 1993. Evidence of Poxvirus in dusky dolphin (Lagenorhynchus obscurus) and Burmeister’s porpoise (Phocoena spinipinnis) from coastal Peru. Journal of Wildlife Diseases 29(1): 109–113.Google Scholar
  50. Van Bressem, M.F., K. Van Waerebeek, and J.A. Raga. 1999. A review of virus infections of cetaceans and the potential impact of morbilliviruses, poxviruses and papillomaviruses on host population dynamics. Diseases of Aquatic Organisms 38(1): 53–65.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Van Bressem, M.F., R. Gaspar, and F.J. Aznar. 2003. Epidemiology of tattoo skin disease in bottlenose dolphins Tursiops truncatus from the Sado estuary, Portugal. Diseases of Aquatic Organisms 56: 171–179.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Van Bressem, M.-F., K. Van Waerebeek, J. Reyes, F. Félix, M. Echegaray, S. Siciliano, A.P. Di Beneditto, L. Flach, F. Viddi, I.C. Avila, J. Bolaños, E. Castineira, D. Montes, E. Crespo, P.A.C. Flores, B. Haase, S.M.F. Mendonça de Souza, M. Laeta, and A.B. Fragoso. 2007. A preliminary overview of skin and skeletal diseases and traumata in small cetaceans from South American waters. Document SC/59/DW4, May 2007. International Whaling Commission, Berlin, Germany, 26 pp.Google Scholar
  53. Wells, R.S., L.J. Hansen, A. Baldridge, T.P. Dohl, D.L. Kelly, and R.H. Defran. 1990. Northward extension of the range of bottlenose dolphins along the California coast. In The bottlenose dolphin, ed. S. Leatherwood, and R.R. Reeves, 421–431. San Diego: Academic Press.Google Scholar
  54. Wilson, B., P.M. Thompson, and P.S. Hammond. 1997. Skin lesions and physical deformities in bottlenose dolphins in the Moray Firth: Population prevalence and age-sex differences. Ambio 26(4): 243–247.Google Scholar
  55. Wilson, B., H. Arnold, G. Bearzi, C.M. Fortuna, R. Gaspar, S. Ingram, C. Liret, S. Pribanić, et al. 1999. Epidermal diseases in bottlenose dolphins: Impacts of natural and anthropogenic factors. Proceedings of the Royal Society of London B 266: 1077–1083.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Wilson, T.M., N.F. Cheville, and I. Karstad. 1969. Seal pox. Bulletin of Wildlife Disease Association 5: 412–418.Google Scholar
  57. Wilson, T.M., N.F. Cheville, and A.D. Boothe. 1972. Sealpox: Questionnaire survey. Journal of Wildlife Diseases 8: 155–157.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  • Daniela Maldini
    • 1
  • Jessica Riggin
    • 1
    • 2
  • Arianna Cecchetti
    • 1
  • Mark P. Cotter
    • 1
    • 3
  1. 1.OkeanisMoss LandingUSA
  2. 2.Division of Science and Environmental PolicyCalifornia State University Monterey BaySeasideUSA
  3. 3.Department of BiologyUniversity of Massachusetts at DartmouthNorth DartmouthUSA

Personalised recommendations