U.S. Department of Commerce


Date of this Version



Paper SC/59/SH21 presented to the International Whaling Commission Scientific Committee, June 2007, Anchorage, Alaska, USA.


We report on three types of skin lesions in a population of blue whales, Balaenoptera musculus, off the northwestern coast of Isla Grande de Chiloe, Chile. These lesions were: (1) cookie-cutter shark, Isistius brasilensis, bites, (2) vesicular or blister lesions, and (3) a tattoo-like skin disease. The presence of these lesions was determined by the examining photos collected in 2006 and 2007 for a blue whale photo-identification project. We examined 289 photographs of 68 individuals for lesions. The cookie-cutter shark lesions are common on these blue whales and similar to those reported from other species of cetaceans. Skin peeling or shedding was observed on some whales and is believed to be a normal condition. Based on the photographs examined to date the vesicular lesions are more common than the tattoo-like lesions. The tattoo-like skin lesions was observed just on a single whale in 2007. The blister lesions were common on whales in both 2006 and 2007. The presence of blister lesions in both years may indicate that this “disease” will be present in the population for a long time. It is unknown if these lesions contribute to mortality of blue whales frequenting Chilean waters, but the tattoo-like skin lesions if shown to be a pox virus could cause neonatal and calf mortality. Additional investigations are needed that, as a minimum, must include the histological and genetic examination of the two types of disease from live or dead whales, especially the tattoo-like skin lesions. Until this work is undertaken, it will be impossible to determine if these lesions pose a conservation risk to the blue whales off Chile.