Scientific Committee Meeting Documents (2008)


Micro-organisms that are known or suspected to cause skin diseases in cetaceans are briefly reviewed. Viruses belonging to four families i.e. Caliciviridae, Herpesviridae, Papillomaviridae and Poxviridae were detected by electron microscopy, histology and molecular techniques in vesicular skin lesions, black dots perceptible by the touch, warts and tattoos in several species of odontocetes and mysticetes. Herpesviruses, poxviruses and likely a cutaneous papillomavirus are cetacean specific. Among bacteria, Dermatophilus spp., Erysipelothrix rhusiopathiae, Mycobacterium marinum, Pseudomonas spp., Streptococcus iniae and Vibrio spp. were isolated from ulcerative dermatitis, pyogranulomatous dermatitis and panniculitis, diamond skin disease and slow-healing ulcers and abscesses. Aeremonas spp., Mycobacterium marinum, Pseudomonas spp. and Vibrio spp. are normally present in the marine environment while Erysipelothrix rhusiopathiae and Streptococcus iniae are fish pathogens that may also infect captive dolphins. Most seem to be opportunistic pathogens, exploiting some break-down in the host’s defenses to initiate an infection. Selection of antibiotic-resistant bacteria through the prophylactic use of antibiotics in aquaculture is suggested to be a growing problem in South America and may account for the emergence of unusual cutaneous conditions. At least four groups of fungi i.e. Candida albicans, Fusarium spp., Trichophyton spp. and Lacazia loboi cause skin diseases. Candidiasis occurs predominantly in captive odontocetes. The lesions are often localized around the body orifices and may become extensive, granulating and ulcerated. Fusariosis is characterized by firm, erythematous, cutaneous nodules. Trichophyton spp. was isolated from widespread superficial nodules in an Atlantic T. truncatus kept in captivity in Japan. Lobomycosis or lacaziosis is distinguished by grayish, whitish to slightly pink, verrucuous lesions, often in pronounced relief that may ulcerate. While initially described only in Tursiops truncatus and Sotalia guianensis from the Americas, lobomycosis seems to be expanding to other continents. The role of ballast water in transporting fungi worldwide should be investigated. Finally, ciliated protozoans, likely Kyaroikeus cetarius, caused invasive dermatitis in small cetaceans from the USA and Korea. The aquatic environment of cetaceans is naturally home to bacteria and fungi but cetacean skin has several mechanisms to impede invasion. Chemical contaminants may affect natural skin barriers and depress the immune system. Wounds and specific viral infection (poxvirus, herpesvirus) may provide routes of entry.