The primary bone pathology diagnoses recognized in cetacea are osteomyelitis and spondylosis deformans. In this study, we determined the prevalence, type, and severity of vertebral pathology in 52 pilot whales, a mass stranding species that stranded on Cape Cod, Massachusetts, between 1982 and 2000. Eleven whales (21%) had hyperostosis and ossification of tendon insertion points on and between vertebrae, chevron bones, and costovertebral joints, with multiple fused blocks of vertebrae. These lesions are typical of a group of interrelated diseases described in humans as spondyloarthropathies, specifically ankylosing spondylitis, which has not been fully described in cetacea. In severe cases, ankylosing spondylitis in humans can inhibit mobility. If the lesions described here negatively affect the overall health of the whale, these lesions may be a contributing factor in stranding of this highly sociable species.
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Vol. 41 • No. 4