A 16-year-old female white whale, Delphinapterus leucas, died after nearly 18 months of chronic lymphopenia and pyogranulomatous dermatitis. Necropsy revealed rupture of the aorta with hemorrhage into the cranial mediastinum and between fascial planes of the ventral neck musculature. Multiple foci of ulcerative dermatitis and panniculitis were present across the thorax and abdomen and surrounded the genital folds. In addition, there was a chronic proliferative pleuritis with over 20 liters of histiocytic exudate in the thoracic cavity. Acid-fast bacteria consistent with Mycobacterium sp. were identified in sections of skin lesions and in cytospins of pleural exudate. Cultures of pleura and 1 skin lesion collected at necropsy yielded sparse growth of an acid-fast bacillus with colony characteristics and morphology consistent with Mycobacterium marinum. Polymerase chain reaction-restriction fragment length polymorphism (PCR-RFLP) analysis confirmed the presence of M. marinum DNA in samples of skin. This is the first documented occurrence of mycobacteriosis in a white whale and is a unique presentation of mycobacterial dermatitis and panniculitis with chronic pleuritis in a cetacean. The improved PCR-RFLP protocol utilized in this case unifies techniques from several protocols to differentiate between species of Nocardia and rapidly growing mycobacteria clinically relevant to aquatic animals.
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