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1.  Bite Injuries of Grey Seals (Halichoerus grypus) on Harbour Porpoises (Phocoena phocoena) 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(12):e108993.
Bite-like skin lesions on harbour porpoises (Phocoena phocoena) have been suspected to be caused by grey seals (Halichoerus grypus), and a few field observations have been reported. Bite-like skin lesions observed on stranded animals were characterized by two main components: large flaps of loose or missing skin and blubber with frayed edges and puncture lesions. Definitive demonstration of predation by a grey seal was not reported so far in those stranded animals. In this study, five stranded porpoises with bite-like skin lesions were swabbed for genetic investigations. In addition, the head of a recently dead grey seal was used to mimic bite-like skin injuries on a porpoise carcass. Subsequently, the artificial skin injuries were swabbed, along with the gum of the seal used for inflicting them (positive controls). Total DNA was extracted from the swabs and was used to retrieve a fragment of mitochondrial DNA by PCR. Primers were designed to amplify a specific stretch of mitochondrial DNA known to differ between grey seals and porpoises. The amplicon targeted was successfully amplified from the positive control and from two of the stranded porpoises, and grey seal-specific mitochondrial DNA was retrieved from all those samples. We conclude that (1) it is possible to detect grey seal DNA from dead porpoises even after several days in seawater and (2) bite-like skin lesions found on dead porpoises definitively result from grey seals attacks. The attacks are most likely linked with predation although, in a number of cases, scavenging and aggressive behaviour cannot be excluded.
doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0108993
PMCID: PMC4251829  PMID: 25461599
3.  The Stranding Anomaly as Population Indicator: The Case of Harbour Porpoise Phocoena phocoena in North-Western Europe 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(4):e62180.
Ecological indicators for monitoring strategies are expected to combine three major characteristics: ecological significance, statistical credibility, and cost-effectiveness. Strategies based on stranding networks rank highly in cost-effectiveness, but their ecological significance and statistical credibility are disputed. Our present goal is to improve the value of stranding data as population indicator as part of monitoring strategies by constructing the spatial and temporal null hypothesis for strandings. The null hypothesis is defined as: small cetacean distribution and mortality are uniform in space and constant in time. We used a drift model to map stranding probabilities and predict stranding patterns of cetacean carcasses under H0 across the North Sea, the Channel and the Bay of Biscay, for the period 1990–2009. As the most common cetacean occurring in this area, we chose the harbour porpoise Phocoena phocoena for our modelling. The difference between these strandings expected under H0 and observed strandings is defined as the stranding anomaly. It constituted the stranding data series corrected for drift conditions. Seasonal decomposition of stranding anomaly suggested that drift conditions did not explain observed seasonal variations of porpoise strandings. Long-term stranding anomalies increased first in the southern North Sea, the Channel and Bay of Biscay coasts, and finally the eastern North Sea. The hypothesis of changes in porpoise distribution was consistent with local visual surveys, mostly SCANS surveys (1994 and 2005). This new indicator could be applied to cetacean populations across the world and more widely to marine megafauna.
doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0062180
PMCID: PMC3632559  PMID: 23614031
4.  Brucella ceti Infection in Harbor Porpoise (Phocoena phocoena) 
Emerging Infectious Diseases  2010;16(12):1966-1968.
We describe Brucella sp. infection and associated lesions in a harbor porpoise (Phocoena phocoena) found on the coast of Belgium. The infection was diagnosed by immunohistochemistry, transmission electron microscopy, and bacteriology, and the organism was identified as B. ceti. The infection’s location in the porpoise raises questions of abortion and zoonotic risks.
doi:10.3201/eid1612.101008
PMCID: PMC3294555  PMID: 21122233
Bacteria; zoonoses; Brucella ceti; cetaceans; harbor porpoise; brucellosis; dispatch
5.  Genetic and historic evidence for climate-driven population fragmentation in a top cetacean predator: the harbour porpoises in European water 
Recent climate change has triggered profound reorganization in northeast Atlantic ecosystems, with substantial impact on the distribution of marine assemblages from plankton to fishes. However, assessing the repercussions on apex marine predators remains a challenging issue, especially for pelagic species. In this study, we use Bayesian coalescent modelling of microsatellite variation to track the population demographic history of one of the smallest temperate cetaceans, the harbour porpoise (Phocoena phocoena) in European waters. Combining genetic inferences with palaeo-oceanographic and historical records provides strong evidence that populations of harbour porpoises have responded markedly to the recent climate-driven reorganization in the eastern North Atlantic food web. This response includes the isolation of porpoises in Iberian waters from those further north only approximately 300 years ago with a predominant northward migration, contemporaneous with the warming trend underway since the ‘Little Ice Age’ period and with the ongoing retreat of cold-water fishes from the Bay of Biscay. The extinction or exodus of harbour porpoises from the Mediterranean Sea (leaving an isolated relict population in the Black Sea) has lacked a coherent explanation. The present results suggest that the fragmentation of harbour distribution range in the Mediterranean Sea was triggered during the warm ‘Mid-Holocene Optimum’ period (approx. 5000 years ago), by the end of the post-glacial nutrient-rich ‘Sapropel’ conditions that prevailed before that time.
doi:10.1098/rspb.2010.0412
PMCID: PMC2981983  PMID: 20444724
cetacean; climate change; habitat fragmentation; population genetics; coalescence
6.  Bluetongue in Eurasian Lynx 
Emerging Infectious Diseases  2008;14(9):1496-1498.
doi:10.3201/eid1409.080434
PMCID: PMC2603091  PMID: 18760034
bluetongue; carnivore; pathology; lynx; BTV; serotype 8; letter
7.  Rise of oceanographic barriers in continuous populations of a cetacean: the genetic structure of harbour porpoises in Old World waters 
BMC Biology  2007;5:30.
Background
Understanding the role of seascape in shaping genetic and demographic population structure is highly challenging for marine pelagic species such as cetaceans for which there is generally little evidence of what could effectively restrict their dispersal. In the present work, we applied a combination of recent individual-based landscape genetic approaches to investigate the population genetic structure of a highly mobile extensive range cetacean, the harbour porpoise in the eastern North Atlantic, with regards to oceanographic characteristics that could constrain its dispersal.
Results
Analyses of 10 microsatellite loci for 752 individuals revealed that most of the sampled range in the eastern North Atlantic behaves as a 'continuous' population that widely extends over thousands of kilometres with significant isolation by distance (IBD). However, strong barriers to gene flow were detected in the south-eastern part of the range. These barriers coincided with profound changes in environmental characteristics and isolated, on a relatively small scale, porpoises from Iberian waters and on a larger scale porpoises from the Black Sea.
Conclusion
The presence of these barriers to gene flow that coincide with profound changes in oceanographic features, together with the spatial variation in IBD strength, provide for the first time strong evidence that physical processes have a major impact on the demographic and genetic structure of a cetacean. This genetic pattern further suggests habitat-related fragmentation of the porpoise range that is likely to intensify with predicted surface ocean warming.
doi:10.1186/1741-7007-5-30
PMCID: PMC1971045  PMID: 17651495
8.  Zn, Cu, Cd and Hg binding to metallothioneins in harbour porpoises Phocoena phocoena from the southern North Sea 
BMC Ecology  2006;6:2.
Background
Harbour porpoises Phocoena phocoena from the southern North Sea are known to display high levels of Zn and Hg in their tissues linked to their nutritional status (emaciation). The question arises regarding a potential role of metallothioneins (MTs) with regard to these high metal levels. In the present study, metallothionein detection and associated Zn, Cd, Cu and Hg concentrations were investigated in the liver and kidney of 14 harbour porpoises collected along the Belgian coast.
Results
Metallothioneins seemed to play a key role in essential metal homeostasis, as they were shown to bind 50% of the total hepatic Zn and 36% of the total hepatic Cu concentrations. Renal MTs also participated in Cd detoxification, as they were shown to bind 56% of the total renal Cd. Hg was mainly found in the insoluble fraction of both liver and kidney. Concomitant increases in total Zn concentration and Zn bound to MTs were observed in the liver, whereas Zn concentration bound to high molecular weight proteins remained constant. Cu, Zn and Cd were accumulated preferentially in the MT fraction and their content in this fraction increased with the amount in the hepatocytosol.
Conclusion
MTs have a key role in Zn and Cu homeostasis in harbour porpoises. We demonstrated that increasing hepatic Zn concentration led to an increase in Zn linked to MTs, suggesting that these small proteins take over the Zn overload linked to the poor body condition of debilitated harbour porpoises.
doi:10.1186/1472-6785-6-2
PMCID: PMC1434725  PMID: 16464247

Results 1-8 (8)