[MARMAM] article on sperm whale mass stranding in Italy

Sandro Mazzariol sandro.mazzariol at unipd.it
Wed May 18 21:22:39 PDT 2011

Dear Colleagues,

We are pleased to announce the recent online publication of the following

Mazzariol S, Di Guardo G, Petrella A, Marsili L, Fossi CM, et al. (2011) Sometimes Sperm Whales (/Physeter macrocephalus/) Cannot Find Their Way Back to the High Seas: A Multidisciplinary Study on a Mass Stranding. PLoS ONE 6(5): e19417. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0019417


Mass strandings of sperm whales (/Physeter macrocephalus/) remain 
peculiar and rather unexplained events, which rarely occur in the 
Mediterranean Sea. Solar cycles and related changes in the geomagnetic 
field, variations in water temperature and weather conditions, coast 
geographical features and human activities have been proposed as 
possible causes. In December 2009, a pod of seven male sperm whales 
stranded along the Adriatic coast of Southern Italy. This is the sixth 
instance from 1555 in this basin.

      Methodology/Principal Findings

Complete necropsies were performed on three whales whose bodies were in 
good condition, carrying out on sampled tissues histopathology, 
virology, bacteriology, parasitology, and screening of veins looking for 
gas emboli. Furthermore, samples for age determination, genetic studies, 
gastric content evaluation, stable isotopes and toxicology were taken 
from all the seven specimens.

The animals were part of the same group and determined by genetic and 
photo-identification to be part of the Mediterranean population. Causes 
of death did not include biological agents, or the "gas and fat embolic 
syndrome", associated with direct sonar exposure. Environmental 
pollutant tissue concentrations were relatively high, in particular 
organochlorinated xenobiotics. Gastric content and morphologic tissue 
examinations showed a prolonged starvation, which likely caused, at its 
turn, the mobilization of lipophilic contaminants from the adipose 
tissue. Chemical compounds subsequently entered the blood circulation 
and may have impaired immune and nervous functions.


A multi-factorial cause underlying this sperm whales' mass stranding is 
proposed herein based upon the results of/postmortem/investigations as 
well as of the detailed analyses of the geographical and historical 
background. The seven sperm whales took the same "wrong way" into the 
Adriatic Sea, a potentially dangerous trap for Mediterranean sperm 
whales. Seismic surveys should be also regarded as potential co-factors, 
even if no evidence of direct impact has been detected.

Please feel free to contact me directly for any question (sandro.mazzariol at unipd.it

Best regards,



Dr. Sandro Mazzariol, DVM, PhD

Coordinator of the Italian Emergency Task Force for Cetacean Unusual 

Dept. of Public Health, Comparative Pathology and Veterinary Hygiene

Universiy of Padova


Viale dell'Università, 16

35020 -- Legnaro (PD)


tel.: +39 049 827 2963

fax: +39 049 827 2973

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