Histopathologic lesions in sea otters exposed to crude oil.

T. P. Lipscomb, R. K. Harris, R. B. Moeller, J. M. Pletcher, R. J. Haebler, B. E. Ballachey

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34 Scopus citations


Following the Exxon Valdez oil spill in Prince William Sound, Alaska, sea otters (Enhydra lutris) that appeared to be contaminated with oil, that were in danger of becoming contaminated, or that were behaving abnormally were captured and taken to rehabilitation centers. Exposure to oil was assessed by visual examination when otters arrived at the centers. Degree of oil exposure was graded according to the following criteria: oil covering greater than 60% of the body--heavily contaminated; oil covering 30-60% of the body--moderately contaminated; oil covering less than 30% of the body or light sheen on fur--lightly contaminated. If there was no oil visible, otters were considered uncontaminated. Tissues from 51 oil-contaminated sea otters (14 males, 37 females) and from six uncontaminated sea otters (three males, three females) that died in rehabilitation centers were examined histologically. Among oil-contaminated sea otters, 19/46 had interstitial pulmonary emphysema, 13/40 had gastric erosion and hemorrhage, 11/47 had centrilobular hepatic necrosis, 14/47 had periportal to diffuse hepatic lipidosis, and 10/42 had renal tubular lipidosis. Of the uncontaminated sea otters, 1/6 had gastric erosion and hemorrhage and 1/6 had diffuse hepatic lipidosis. Histologic examinations were performed on tissues from five sea otters (three males, two females) found dead with external oil present 15 to 16 days after the spill. Periportal hepatic lipidosis and renal tubular lipidosis were found in 3/5, and interstitial pulmonary emphysema was found in 1/5. Tissues from six apparently normal sea otters (four males, two females) collected from an area not affected by an oil spill were examined histologically, and none of these lesions were found. We conclude that interstitial pulmonary emphysema, centrilobular hepatic necrosis, and hepatic and renal lipidosis of sea otters were associated with exposure to crude oil. Gastric erosion and hemorrhage may have been associated with stress of captivity and/or oil exposure.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1-11
Number of pages11
JournalVeterinary Pathology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1993
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • veterinary(all)


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