From 1984 through 1992, staff at The Marine Mammal Center (TMMC, Sausalito, California, USA) examined 207 northern elephant seals (Mirounga angustirostris) with a condition of unknown etiology called northern elephant seal skin disease (NESSD). The skin lesions were characterized by patchy to extensive alopecia and hyperpigmentation, punctate or coalescing epidermal ulceration, and occasionally, massive skin necrosis. Microscopic lesions included ulcerative dermatitis with hyperkeratosis, squamous metaplasia and atrophy of sebaceous glands. All diseased seals were less than 2 years of age and suffered from emaciation, depression, and dehydration. Mortality from septicemia increased significantly with severity of skin ulceration. Compared to 14 apparently unaffected seals, diseased seals had depressed levels of circulating thyroxine, triiodothyronine, retinol, serum iron, albumin, calcium, and cholesterol. Levels of alanine aminotransferase, aspartate aminotransferase, lactate dehydrogenase, gamma glutamyl transpeptidase, blood urea nitrogen, and uric acid were elevated. Morphometrically, diseased animals were approximately 15% smaller than normal seals of the same age. Serum and blubber concentrations of 36 polychlorinated biphenyl congeners (ΣPCB) and dichloro-diphenyl-dichloroethylene (p,p′-DDE) were negatively correlated with body mass. Mean concentrations of ΣPCB and p,p′-DDE in serum in diseased seals were elevated as compared to apparently normal seals. Etiology of this syndrome remains unknown, but the possibility of PCB toxicosis cannot be ruled out.
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Vol. 33 • No. 3