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Veterinary Pathology

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A review of the published literature indicates that marine mammal neoplasia includes the types and distributions of tumors seen in domestic species. A routine collection of samples from marine mammal species is hampered, and, hence, the literature is principally composed of reports from early whaling expeditions, captive zoo mammals, and epizootics that affect larger numbers of animals from a specific geographic location. The latter instances are most important, because many of these long-lived, free-ranging marine mammals may act as environmental sentinels for the health of the oceans. Examination of large numbers of mortalities reveals incidental proliferative and neoplastic conditions and, less commonly, identifies specific malignant cancers that can alter population dynamics. The best example of these is the presumptive herpesvirus-associated metastatic genital carcinomas found in California sea lions. Studies of tissues from St. Lawrence estuary beluga whales have demonstrated a high incidence of neoplasia and produced evidence that environmental contamination with high levels of polychlorinated biphenols and dichlorophenyl trichloroethane might be the cause. In addition, viruses are suspected to be the cause of gastric papillomas in belugas and cutaneous papillomas in Florida manatees and harbor porpoises. While experimental laboratory procedures can further elucidate mechanisms of neoplasia, continued pathologic examination of marine mammals will also be necessary to follow trends in wild populations.

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