DAO 85:225-237 (2009)  -  doi:10.3354/dao02080

Epidemiological pattern of tattoo skin disease: a potential general health indicator for cetaceans

Marie-Françoise Van Bressem1,*, Koen Van Waerebeek1, Francisco Javier Aznar2, Juan Antonio Raga2, Paul D. Jepson3, Pádraig Duignan4, Rob Deaville3, Leonardo Flach5, Francisco Viddi6, John R. Baker7, Ana Paula Di Beneditto8, Mónica Echegaray9, Tilen Genov10, Julio Reyes9, Fernando Felix11, Raquel Gaspar12, Renata Ramos13, Vic Peddemors14, Gian Paolo Sanino15, Ursula Siebert16

1Cetacean Conservation Medicine Group (CMED), CEPEC, Museo de Delfines, Pucusana, Lima 20, Peru
2Marine Zoology Unit, Cavanilles Institute of Biodiversity and Evolutionary Biology, University of Valencia, PO Box 22085,
46071 Valencia, Spain
3Institute of Zoology, Regent’s Park, London NW1 4RY, UK
4Veterinary Laboratory Agency, Luddington, Warwickshire, CV37 9SJ, UK
5Projeto Boto Cinza-VALE, Rua Sta Terezinha, 531-90 Vila Muriqui, Mangaratiba, Rio de Janeiro 23860-000, Brazil
6Centro Ballena Azul, Valdivia, Chile and Graduate School of the Environment, Macquarie University, Sydney, New South Wales 2109, Australia
7Department of Veterinary Pathology, University of Liverpool, Veterinary Teaching Hospital, Leahurst, Chester High Road, Neston, Wirral, CH64 7TE, UK
8Universidade Estadual do Norte Fluminense-CBB, Laboratório de Ciências Ambientais, Av. A. Lamego,
2000-Campo dos Goytacazes, Rio de Janeiro 28013-602, Brazil
9Áreas Costeras y Recursos Marinos (ACOREMA), Calle San Francisco 253, 201-B, Pisco, Peru
10Morigenos - Marine Mammal Research and Conservation Society, Jarska cesta 36/a, 1000 Ljubljana, Slovenia
11Fundación Ecuatoriana para el Estudio de Mamíferos Marinos (FEMM), PO Box 09-01-11905, Guayaquil, Ecuador
12Gatty Marine Laboratory, University of St. Andrews, St. Andrews, Fife KY16 8LB, Scotland, UK
13Everest, Av. Nossa Senhora dos Navegantes, 675/1201, Enseada do Suá, Vitória, Espírito Santo 29056-900, Brazil
14School of Biological & Conservation Sciences, University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban 4000, South Africa
15Centre for Marine Mammal Research LEVIATHAN, Lo Beltrán 2251, CP 7640392, Vitacura, Santiago, Chile
16Forschungs- und Technologiezentrum Westküste, Christian-Albrechts-Universität Kiel, Hafentörn 1, 25761 Büsum, Germany

ABSTRACT: The presence of tattoo skin disease (TSD) was examined in 1392 free-ranging and dead odontocetes comprising 17 species from the Americas, Europe, South Africa, New Zealand and Greenland. We investigated whether TSD prevalence varied with sex, age and health status. TSD was encountered in cetaceans from the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans as well as in those from the North, Mediterranean and Tasman Seas. No clear patterns related to geography and host phylogeny were detected, except that prevalence of TSD in juveniles and, in 2 species (dusky dolphin Lagenorhynchus obscurus and Burmeister’s porpoise Phocoena spinipinnis), in adults was remarkably high in samples from Peru. Environmental factors and virus properties may be responsible for this finding. Sex did not significantly influence TSD prevalence except in the case of Peruvian P. spinipinnis. Generally, there was a pattern of TSD increase in juveniles compared to calves, attributed to the loss of maternal immunity. Also, in most samples, juveniles seemed to have a higher probability of suffering TSD than adults, presumably because more adults had acquired active immunity following infection. This holo-endemic pattern was inverted in poor health short-beaked common dolphins Delphinus delphis and harbour porpoises Phocoena phocoena from the British Isles, and in Chilean dolphins Cephalorhynchus eutropia from Patagonia, where adults showed a higher TSD prevalence than juveniles. Very large tattoos were seen in some adult odontocetes from the SE Pacific, NE Atlantic and Portugal’s Sado Estuary, which suggest impaired immune response. The epidemiological pattern of TSD may be an indicator of cetacean population health.


KEY WORDS: Tattoo skin disease · Poxviruses · Cetaceans · Epidemiology · Health status


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Cite this article as: Van Bressem MF, Van Waerebeek K, Aznar FJ, Raga JA and others (2009) Epidemiological pattern of tattoo skin disease: a potential general health indicator for cetaceans. Dis Aquat Org 85:225-237

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