Morphological and pathological findings in the middle and inner ears of harbour porpoises (Phocoena phocoena)
Hearing represents the major sense in harbour porpoises (Phocoena phocoena) and impairment of hearing has a great impact on the survival of these animals. In this communication, some anatomical and histological aspects of the tympanoperiotic complex of harbour porpoises are presented. In addition, the ears of 21 incidentally bycaught or stranded freshly dead harbour porpoises of different age groups and sex were investigated histologically. At the entrance to the middle ear cavity, mucosa-associated lymphoid tissue was present that was often hyperplastic in juvenile (9/10) and adult individuals (7/8). Solitary lymphoid follicles were additionally found in the corpus cavernosum and adjacent to the stapedius muscle in single porpoises. The nematode Stenurus minor represented the most common pathogen observed in the middle ear cavity of juvenile and adult harbour porpoises and the parasite was associated with chronic inflammation with metaplastic and hyperplastic epithelial changes. An unusual bone formation at the attachment of the corpus cavernosum to the perioticum was a common finding, even in young individuals. Whether this represents a normal structure or a metaplastic change remains undetermined. Acute haemorrhages in the cochlea and/or the tympanic cavity occurred in all animals and were most likely agonal changes. Single porpoises suffered from purulent otitis media, mycotic otitis media with osteolysis or chronically fractured tympanic bones, likely causing impairment of hearing that may have contributed to by-catch. There was no evidence that stranding in five porpoises was associated with the aural changes. Histological examination of the ears in harbour porpoises is a valuable part of the assessment of their health status. Damage to hearing structures may explain starvation due to impaired ability to catch prey or unusual behaviour such as stranding or entanglement in nets.
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