We examined the tooth ultra-structure of harbour porpoises (Phocoena phocoena) from Scottish waters to determine whether the incidence of mineralization anomalies could be related to certain life history events (e.g. the achievement of sexual maturation) as well as other factors that affect the general health of the individual (e.g. persistent organic pollutant (POP) concentrations in blubber). Five distinct types of mineralization anomalies were recorded: accessory lines, marker lines, dentinal resorption, cemental disturbance and pulp stones and the occurrence of these anomalies was scored by sex, age and maturity state. Overall, the incidence of mineralization anomalies was high and tended to increase with age. Marker lines and accessory lines were the most commonly recorded anomalies while pulp stones were least frequent. Duplicate teeth (i.e. from the same individual) always showed the same pattern of anomaly occurrence.
Fitted binary generalized linear and additive models indicated that the presence of dentinal resorption, cemental disturbance and marker lines in harbour porpoise teeth increased with age, body length and maturity. Males displayed marker lines more frequently than females. Age was the best predictor of the incidence of dentinal resorption and cemental disturbance while age and sex were the best predictors of the incidence of marker lines. The time course of appearance of dentinal resorption and cemental disturbance suggests that their occurrence could be related to physiological stress linked to sexual maturation. Marker lines were found within growth layer groups which coincided with the beginning of weaning and sexual maturation, suggesting an association with these two major life history events. Accessory lines were found in most teeth and may be a normal characteristic of porpoise teeth or reflect regular events. Pulp stones appeared only in mature animals. We found no evidence that the presence of anomalies in teeth was significantly related to POP concentrations in the blubber.