Intestinal displacements in older harbour and grey seals
Intestinal displacements including volvulus, torsion and invagination have been reported in various terrestrial and marine mammals. We conducted pathological investigations on 157 seals that had either stranded on the coasts of the North or Baltic Sea between 1996 and 2015 (115 harbour seals, >19 mo old; 21 grey seals, >13 mo old) or died while in human care (18 harbour seals, >19 mo old; 3 grey seals, >13 mo old). Intestinal displacements were found in 23% of the examined free-living harbour seals, in 5% of the stranded grey seals and in 17% of the harbour seals in human care. Intestinal volvulus, found in 24 cases, was characterized by twisting of the intestine along the mesenteric axis (180-540°) resulting in vascular obstruction and haemorrhagic infarction. In harbour seals, the sex ratio of individuals suffering from volvulus tended to be biased towards females during April to June, suggesting an elevated risk for pregnant females around birth time. Invagination was detected in 11 cases, 5 of which suffered from additional volvulus. Pathological findings associated with intestinal volvulus and invagination were sero-haemorrhagic effusions in the abdominal cavity. Enteritis, parasitic infection with gastric nematodes and intestinal acanthocephalans and bacterial infection with predominantly Clostridium perfringens and Escherichia coli were observed in most of the affected animals. In total, 30 investigated harbour and grey seals suffered from intestinal displacements. Pregnant females seemed to be more vulnerable around birth time. Causes of intestinal displacements remain undetermined, but are likely multifactorial.