This paper presents evidence of the presence and subsequent loss of postnatal skin in an ecdysis-like process in southern right whales, Eubalaena australis. Individuals whose skin was noticeably uneven, spongy, broken, and often light gray in color formed ≥20% of right whale neonates seen on the South African coast on any day up to and including the 1st week of September. Thereafter ≥85% of calves were of the normal, smooth-skinned appearance. The 50% transition point between the 2 forms occurred on 31 August (95% CI 1.1 days), or about a week after birth. Histological analysis of skin from stranded neonates showed a definite cleavage plane in the midepidermis, the mechanical integrity of which was further compromised by low concentrations of desmosomes and intracellular filaments. We propose that focal edema develops between the cells and forms the cleavage plane, which eventually leads to separation of the outer epidermal cell layer (cf. spongiosis in humans). The movement from the intrauterine to the oceanic milieu, and the osmoregulatory consequences thereof, may be a catalytic factor for this process to occur. This ecdysis may have important consequences for the cyamid fauna of neonatal right whales.
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