Epidermal and papillary dermal characteristics of the bowhead whale (Balaena mysticetus)

Anat Rec. 1985 Apr;211(4):391-402. doi: 10.1002/ar.1092110404.


Skin samples from most body regions of the bowhead whale were examined. The epidermis is 2.7 to 50 times thicker than that reported in other cetaceans with both regional and individual variations in thickness. The thinnest areas examined (1 mm) occur on the eyelid margins and the thickest (25 mm) occur on the lower jaw. A distinctive parakeratotic stratum corneum with a thick underlying stratum spinosum (without a stratum granulosum) extends over the entire body surface. From a few dozen to several hundred epidermal lesions are present on all whales studied. A typical stratum basale of germinative keratinocytes (with melanocytes in pigmented areas) rests upon a well-defined basal lamina. Epidermal rod arrays arise from the basal keratinocytes which cover highly elongated dermal papillae and extend to the epidermal surface through the distal stratum spinosum and the stratum corneum. At least four diatom genera occur on and in the stratum corneum and lesion areas of different whales. The superficial dermis consists of a papillary layer with long (up to 13 mm) dermal papillae interdigitating with the epidermis from a basal area that is 2-4 mm in thickness. The number of dermal papillae per mm2 varies inversely with the thickness of the epidermis. Large diameter, sensory papillae packed with tortuous, highly elongated, encapsulated nerve end organs also interdigitate with the thin epidermal areas of the ventral surface of the rostrum, the upper and lower lip margins, and the upper and lower eyelid margins. Scattered, single, stiff hairs emerge from the skin only in specific, pigmented regions of the head.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cetacea / anatomy & histology*
  • Epidermal Cells
  • Epidermis / anatomy & histology
  • Skin / anatomy & histology*
  • Skin / cytology
  • Terminology as Topic
  • Whales / anatomy & histology*