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Diseases of Aquatic Organisms

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DAO 131:167-176 (2018)  -  DOI: https://doi.org/10.3354/dao03295

Prevalence of alopecia in gray seals Halichoerus grypus atlantica in Massachusetts, USA, 2004-2013

Katie Pugliares-Bonner1,*, Katherine McKenna1,2,3, Lisa Sette4, Misty Niemeyer2, Michael Tlusty5,6

1Rescue and Rehabilitation Department, New England Aquarium, Boston, MA 02110, USA
2Marine Mammal Rescue and Research, International Fund for Animal Welfare, Yarmouthport, MA 02675, USA
3National Marine Life Center, Bourne, MA 02532, USA
4Marine Animal Entanglement Response, Center for Coastal Studies, Provincetown, MA 02657, USA
5Anderson Cabot Center for Ocean Life, New England Aquarium, Boston, MA 02110, USA
6School for the Environment, University of Massachusetts Boston, Boston, MA 02125, USA
*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: There has been an increase in the presence of alopecia among gray seals Halichoerus grypus atlantica in Massachusetts, USA. To understand the prevalence and describe the presentation of this condition, data records and photographs of 10070 gray seals from 2004-2013 were reviewed; there were sufficient data to confidently assess the presence or absence of alopecia in 2134 seals. Mild hair loss presented in multifocal patches with minimal to no skin lesions or erythema. In severe cases, alopecia was concentrated over the dorsal head, neck, and shoulders and extended down the ventrum, affecting >50% of the body. Associated skin lesions and erythema were often present. Alopecia was documented in 7.1% of the surveyed seals, and was centered in Nantucket. Alopecia was more prevalent in stranded/sighted animals in spring and summer, with 81% of cases documented from April to July. There was no sex bias, and weanlings were the most affected age class (38%). The etiology for alopecia in Massachusetts gray seals is unknown. Possible causes of alopecia in wildlife are infectious disease, nutritional deficiencies, endocrinopathies, or chronic physiologic stress. High population density around Nantucket may escalate intraspecific competition for resources, which may indirectly lead to stress-induced immunosuppression or nutritional deficiencies. Crowded haul-out sites increase the opportunity for disease transmission. The weanling age class may be prone to alopecia due to naïve immune systems and inexperienced foraging capabilities. Diagnostic sample collection from gray seals will be required to characterize the etiology, pathogenesis, and significance of alopecia in this population.


KEY WORDS: Hair loss · Phocid · Pinniped · New England


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Cite this article as: Pugliares-Bonner K, McKenna K, Sette L, Niemeyer M, Tlusty M (2018) Prevalence of alopecia in gray seals Halichoerus grypus atlantica in Massachusetts, USA, 2004-2013. Dis Aquat Org 131:167-176. https://doi.org/10.3354/dao03295

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