Thirty stranded beluga whales (Delphinapterus leucas) from the St. Lawrence Estuary (Quebec, Canada) population and five animals from the Hudson Bay aboriginal hunt (Northwest Territories, Canada) were examined. Twenty one animals from the St. Lawrence Estuary had mild to severe adrenal lesions and four whales from the Hudson Bay population were affected by minimal adrenal changes. Cortical hyperplasia was observed in 24 adult beluga whales all from the St. Lawrence Estuary. Bilateral cortical cysts and cellular vacuolar degeneration were observed in the adrenal glands of 19 beluga whales from both populations. The cysts, filled with a cortisol-rich liquid, were present in both sexes. Beluga whales with adrenal cysts were significantly older than animals without cysts, and the severity of the lesions increased with age. Nodular hyperplasia of the medulla was observed in seven of the beluga whales, all from the St. Lawrence Estuary population. All lesions could be part of a normal aging process. The adrenocortical lesions might be due to stress or adrenocorticolytic xenobiotics, while the medullary hyperplasia might be caused by hypoxia or exposure to estrogenic xenobiotics.
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Vol. 33 • No. 3