During winter 1994–95, four and three sperm whales (Physeter niacrocephalus) were stranded along the Belgian and the Dutch coasts, respectively. Necropsies and tissue samplings were collected 24 hrs post mortem. Lesions on several whales included round and linear skin scars, ventral skin abrasions, acute skin ulcers, acute ulcerative stomatitides, acute to chronic external otitides, and passive visceral congestion. In addition, these sperm whales appeared to be debilitated with severe weight deficit, had blubber thickness reduction, the absence of abdominal fat, and the intestinal tracts were almost empty. Three categories of lesions and their possible relation with the stranding were evaluated. Cutaneous scars observed on the seven whales appeared to have no relation with the stranding. The poor body condition and acute integument ulcerative lesions were present before the stranding. Ventral skin abrasions and visceral passive congestion were caused by the strandings. Absence of food in the alimentary tracts, evidence of weight loss and blubber thickness reduction were compatible with an extended presence of the sperm whales in the North Sea, where adequate food is not available. This might lead to progressive weakness, predisposing the animals to secondary pathogens such as viral diseases. Finally, the coastal configuration of the southern North Sea makes it a trap for sperm whales which have entered the area during their wanderings.

This content is only available as a PDF.