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Diseases of Aquatic Organisms

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DAO 145:159-164 (2021)  -  DOI: https://doi.org/10.3354/dao03605

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Subcutaneous, abdominal, and thoracic encapsulated fat necrosis in bowhead whales Balaena mysticetus from Alaska, USA

Raphaela Stimmelmayr1,2,*, David S. Rotstein3, Gay Sheffield4, John Craig George1

1Department of Wildlife Management, North Slope Borough, PO Box 69, Utqiagvik, Alaska 99723, USA
2Institute of Arctic Biology, University of Alaska Fairbanks, PO Box 757000, Fairbanks, Alaska 99775-70, USA
3Marine Mammal Pathology Services, Olney, Maryland 20832, USA
4Alaska Sea Grant, University of Alaska Fairbanks-Marine Advisory Program, Nome, Alaska 99762, USA
*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: We describe a case series of encapsulated fat necrosis with subcutaneous, abdominal, and thoracic locations in 7 subsistence-harvested bowhead whales Balaena mysticetus. Masses had a variably-dense fibrous capsule surrounding necrotic adipocytes and calcium salts (saponification). One animal also had prior concussive injury, pleural fibrosis, and hepatic lipoma; the other animals had no significant findings. The described condition is uncommon in bowhead whales, with 7/575 (1.2%) observed from 1996 to 2015. The exact mechanisms of development of encapsulated fat necrosis in bowhead whales remain to be determined. Encapsulated fat necrosis has been reported in other baleen whales, humans, and cows. It is usually an incidental finding during post-mortem examination that needs to be differentiated from neoplastic and inflammatory lesions, as the latter may have public health implications. Assessment of further cases in bowhead whales and other baleen whales is warranted to better understand their pathogenesis.


KEY WORDS: Aboriginal whaling · Alaska · Balaena mysticetus · Bowhead whale · Encapsulated fat necrosis · Subcutaneous · Abdominal · Thoracic · Husks


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Cite this article as: Stimmelmayr R, Rotstein DS, Sheffield G, George JC (2021) Subcutaneous, abdominal, and thoracic encapsulated fat necrosis in bowhead whales Balaena mysticetus from Alaska, USA. Dis Aquat Org 145:159-164. https://doi.org/10.3354/dao03605

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