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Fatal asphyxiation in two long-finned pilot whales (Globicephala melas) caused by common soles (Solea solea)
IJsseldijk, L; Leopold, F; Rebolledo, B; Deaville, R; Haelters, J.; Ijzer, J; Jepson, D; Grone, A (2015). Fatal asphyxiation in two long-finned pilot whales (Globicephala melas) caused by common soles (Solea solea). PLoS One 10(11): e0141951.
In: PLoS One. Public Library of Science: San Francisco. ISSN 1932-6203, more
Peer reviewed article  

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  • IJsseldijk, L.
  • Leopold, M.
  • Rebolledo, E.
  • Deaville, R.
  • Haelters, J., more
  • Ijzer, J.
  • Jepson, P.
  • Grone, A.

    Long-finned pilot whales (Globicephala melas) are rare visitors to the southern North Sea, but recently two individual strandings occurred on the Dutch coast. Both animals shared the same, unusual cause of death: asphyxiation from a common sole (Solea solea) stuck in their nasal cavity. This is a rare cause of death in cetaceans. Whilst asphyxiation has been reported in smaller odontocetes, there are no recent records of this occurring in Globicephala species. Here we report the stranding, necropsy and diet study results as well as discuss the unusual nature of this phenomenon. Flatfish are not a primary prey species for pilot whales and are rarely eaten by other cetaceans, such as harbour porpoises (Phocoena phocoena), in which there are several reports of asphyxiation due to airway obstruction by soles. This risk may be due to the fish’s flexible bodies which can enter small cavities either actively in an attempt to escape or passively due to the whale ‘coughing’ or ‘sneezing’ to rid itself of the blockage of the trachea. It is also possible that the fish enter the airways whilst the whale is re-articulating the larynx after trying to ingest large, oddly shaped prey. It is unlikely that the soles entered the airways after the death of the whales and we believe therefore that they are responsible for the death of these animals.

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