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Diseases of Aquatic Organisms

    DAO prepress abstract   -  DOI:

    Evidence for active selection by Pennella balaenoptera of injured cetacean skin for attachment, and its potential as a forensic tag

    O. Chaieb, S. Ten*, F. J. Aznar

    *Corresponding author:

    ABSTRACT: Cetaceans harbor multiple epibionts on their external surface, and these attach to particular microhabitats. Understanding what drives the selection of attachment sites is relevant for refining the use of epibionts as indicators of their hosts. We report on about 100 females of the mesoparasitic copepod Pennella balaenoptera attached to a dead Cuvier’s beaked whale, Ziphius cavirostris, stranded in Tunisia (western Mediterranean); the first report of P. balaenoptera in this country. The copepods were exclusively attached to numerous incisive, likely anthropogenic, wounds found on the host’s skin. This finding suggests that newly recruited females may actively seek skin areas where physical penetration is facilitated; a factor that may help explain patterns of microhabitat selection by Pennella spp., and perhaps other pennellids, on their hosts. The estimated age of parasitization by P. balaenoptera (supported by age estimations of the co-occurring epibiotic barnacle Conchoderma virgatum) also suggests that the cetacean host likely survived these injuries, at least initially, and the presumed cause of death was starvation due to entanglement in a fishing net.