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Hawaiian monk seal Kermit snoozes on an Oahu beach, oblivious to the transmitter on his back that gathers data about his movements for NOAA researchers. The Hawaiian monk seal is considered to be a Phocid, or true seal, meaning it has no external ears and swims by using its hind flippers for propulsion and its front flippers as stabilizers. Hawaiian monk seals are pinnipeds, which is the order of marine mammals including seals, sea lions and walruses. This study documents the pathologies evident in the 5 million-year-old fossil phocid seal assemblage. With fewer than 1,200 individuals remaining, it is more endangered than the giant panda or the Asian elephant.
All are characterized by having large eyes, prominent snouts, streamlined shapes and four swimming flippers which typify the order.
The Recovery Team needs $7 million a year to save our seals, but NOAA has not adequately funded the plan. Hawaiian monk seals do not have special physical adaptations to deal with the warm climate in which they live.
The majority of the ailments were forms of osteoarthritis, although periodontitis and osteomyelitis were also evident. Instead, they remain inactive during the heat of the day, finding a resting spot with shade or wet sand.
Some bones also showed healed fractures, suggesting that the individuals survived the traumatic event.
Previous analysis of the well-preserved seal remains has documented that some of the seals had pathologies but these were not studied further. Hendey2 noted that the Langebaanweg carnivores exhibited a higher prevalence of pathologies than the herbivores and presumed this to be as a result of their longer lifespans. The two cranial pathologies observed were on premaxillae while the postcranial pathologies occurred on both complete and incomplete limb and flipper bones.
In SAM-PQ-L56007 (Figure 1a) the distal articulation has been obliterated by exostoses (additional bone growth9) and the surface is pitted (changes to the contour of the bone9) with excavations. In SAM-PQ-L60194 (Figure 1b), only the medial condyle is affected; there are minor exostoses, the surface is porous and periosteal lesions are present. Marginal osteophytes (formation of new bone around the margins of the joint10) and exostoses are evident proximally on SAM-PQ-L40860. Normal development appears to have been affected in the femur of SAM-PQ-L50935 (Figure 1d), which resulted in it being shorter and more robust than any of the other femora preserved. The articulating surface of the lateral condyle has been damaged, showing a split that has filled with new bone growth and extensive bone growth along its anterior border. Exostoses extend proximally and medially, forming a bony plate in front of the lateral articulation; medially there is minor growth along the articulating surface edge. Erosion of the articulating surface has resulted in the outline of the articulating condyles being barely visible (Figure 1e). The articulating surface is covered by bone proliferation, which was most likely as a result of increased vascularisation10 as well as pitting resulting in perforations. It is well documented in human studies that pitting results in holes which allow communication with subchondral cysts.10 A second proximal tibia (SAM-PQ-L45841) has lipping anteriorly on the articulating surface and porosity on the articulating surface, suggestive of the early stages of osteoarthritis. A fragment (SAM-PQ-L31064) shows disruption of the articulating surface and porosity of the surface.


On the ventral surface of the metapodial fragment (SAM-PQ-L64075) there is evidence of periosteal lesions. On the lateral side of a humeral head (SAM-PQ-L40860) there is an oval area that shows subchondral bone attached to the head suggesting that it may have been caused by a subchondral cyst. After observing other humeri in the collection, the deeper muscle attachment scarring on the lateral surface of SAM-PQ-L56007 suggests that muscles of the elbow were overly developed and had a stronger action. The ulna has a healed fracture with displacement of the proximal half of the bone (Figure 1f). Exposed trabeculae, scalloped edges and a scooped floor on the articulation surface is similar to the ulna figured and described by Waldron10, which would indicate the possibility of rheumatoid arthritis.
In chimpanzees, traumatic injuries are often accompanied by degenerative joint diseases.13 The associated radius (SAM-PQ-L33262) shows bone proliferation, which resulted in a lip forming along the distal edge of the articulation and the loss of periosteal bone posteriorly on the head, indicating the early stages of arthritis as demonstrated in the human remains described by White and Folkens12 that had developed traumatic arthritis.
The presence of bone growth on the dorsal surface indicates that, although the fracture healed, the distal end of the bone is slightly bent as a result of misalignment caused by trauma. Surrounding the acetabulum and extending onto the ilium and the ischium there is extensive periosteal bone reaction with resulting exostoses similar to that seen in SAM-PQ-L45976 (Figure 2c), but the latter is more porous. Part of the ischium, pubis and the posterior part of the acetabulum are preserved on the left innominate (SAM-PQ-L30080).
There is evidence of a periosteal bone reaction on the ischium in particular, although minor growth is evident on the pubis. SAM-PQ-L70460 (Figure 2d) has all four sockets while only the two left sockets are present in SAM-PQ-L70483 (Figure 2e). A small supernumerary tooth socket is present in the midline of SAM-PQ-L70460 and its general shape suggests that it was well developed. Supernumerary teeth in extant northern elephant seals were relatively common on mandibles.15 None of the seal mandibles exhibited supernumerary teeth or sockets. The pathologically excavated socket walls are concave and the periosteum is damaged showing the subchondral bone and the presence of vascular foramina10,15 suggesting periodontitis (an inflammatory reaction in the periodontium which can spread to the surrounding alveolar bone causing its destruction10). Reabsorption is evident in the median wall separating the medial sockets and the smooth edges suggest that healing had occurred (Figure 2f). Currently, minimal comparative data is available with regard to the incidence of pathologies in modern seal populations. The tibia (SAM-PQ-L50300), femur (SAM-PQ-L62914) and humerus (SAM-PQ-L56007), in particular, show fairly severe reactions, which would have affected the functioning of the joints. The epiphyses of these particular elements are fused, indicating the adult status of the individuals. The bone growth on the tibia surrounding the joint surface to the lateral side could have been a way of accommodating damage to the joint, as seen in a bull mammoth where there was possibly subluxation (partial dislocation) of the knee.16 Phocid seals hunted and interacted socially in water, so these arthritic joints may not have hampered their movements.
A number of the foot bones had developed osteoarthritis which would have affected the animal's movement as it matured.
Eburnation was not noted in any of the arthritic joints of the Langebaanweg seals possibly because the individuals died before the disease had progressed to the advanced stage of bone on bone contact. Seals need to be agile and manoeuvrable in order to hunt and to avoid other seals and especially to evade predators.
Such damage to the forelimb may well have resulted in this particular individual being unable to venture far from the shore where food was more readily accessible.
The fractured phalange had healed with slight deformation, but probably did not hamper movement in spite of secondary osteoarthritis that had developed.


The fractured metapodial shows signs of remodelling as a result of exostoses.11,18 There is evidence of possible osteomyelitis on the pelvic regions of two specimens. In SAM-PQ-L30080 the infection has extended bilaterally but the left side is incomplete and appears not to have been as severe. These interactions include mating displays as well as intra-specific male aggression for mates.
Male on male interaction increases towards the end of the mating season when there are more females in oestrous and this is when neck and hind flipper injuries increase.19 It is thus possible that the osteomyelitis of SAM-PQ-L30080 was caused by a bite. Unfortunately there is no evidence of this on the bone, but damage to surrounding muscle would have been sufficient to provide an entry point for infection. It is possible that it may have been attacked by an adult (intra-specific aggression), although this injury does not rule out a predator attack.
The second innominate (SAM-PQ-L45976) also has bone growth on the lateral surface of the ilium as well as indications that the femoral head had shifted its position. This infection may have been as a result of a subluxation of the femur which caused damage to the joint, bleeding and inflammation in the joint capsule, or an infection as a result of trauma to the surrounding tissue that resulted in secondary osteoarthritis. Currently there are no recognisable pathological changes to 349 mandibular remains from Langebaanweg. Damage to the maxillary region could have resulted from accidents during feeding, playing or fighting, which could have caused damage to the periodontium that may have become infected and later spread to the surrounding bone causing its destruction.
The maxillae are fragments and it is difficult to comment further on the exact nature of the injury.
The bones predominantly afflicted were those of the forelimb, pelvic girdle, hindlimb and foot, as well as the skull.
The majority of the individuals suffered from varying degrees of osteoarthritis, but osteomyelitis and periodontitis also were evident; one individual had a supernumerary incisor. Healing of a fractured ulna indicates that the individual survived, although muscle action had caused displacement, which was evident on the bone. Our analysis of the pathologies evident in the fossil seals suggests that ontogenetic maturity, as well as intra-population interactions, led to pathological changes in the skeletons.
Palaeoecology of the Late Tertiary fossil occurrences in 'E' Quarry, Langebaanweg, South Africa, and a reinterpretation of their geological context. Varswater Formation (including the Langeenheid Clayey Sand, KoningVlei Gravel, Langeberg Quartz Sand and Muishond Fontein Phosphatic Sand member). Paleopathology and health of native and introduced animals on southern Peruvian and Bolivian Spanish colonial sites. Suspected bacterial disease in two archaeological horse skeletons from southern England: Palaeopathological and biomolecular studies.
Balancing foraging and reproduction in the male harbour seal, an aquatically mating pinniped.



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