Pathologies of Stranded Dolphins
IAAAM 1991
N. Hugenberg, DVM; G. Patton, BS; H. Anderson, DVM; A. Rawson, MD; E. Lerner, VMD; J. Gorzelany, MS
Mote Marine Laboratory, Thompson Parkway, Sarasota, FL

Dolphin medicine is many years behind human medicine in the database and understanding of pathologies and normal physiological parameters. Most marine mammal stranding programs in the southeast U.S. are unable to conclusively determine "cause of death" and, instead, are limited to describing "mortality factors" until a better understanding can be gained.

Stranding response has been provided by Mote Marine Laboratory (MML) between Tampa Bay and Charlotte Harbor (FL) since 1984. The files contain 105 cases for the period December 1984 through February 1991, ranging from live animals to skeletal remains. All are Tursiops truncatus with the exception of one Stenella sp. Eleven special cases are presented ranging from behavior-induced mortality factors, to an interesting variety of natural conditions, and human-related factors:


Broken jaw

Net entanglement


Stingray barbs

Severe raking


Fish stuck in throat

Fatal knife wound




Of the 105 cases involving dolphins, 30% had no reported pathologies or the soft tissues were too decomposed to examine. Of the remaining 73 cases, the order of frequency of occurrence of reported pathologies was:

34% parasites

8% ulcers or abscesses

29% respiratory

7% severe raking

23% shark foraging

5% stingray barbs

15% net entanglement

5% circulatory problems

12% liver/kidney dysfunction

4% reproductive problems

8% emaciation


It is only through continued efforts to thoroughly examine stranded animals and report the findings to the veterinary and scientific communities that will we close the gap in our ability to understand and properly care for these special animals.

Speaker Information
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N. Hugenberg, DVM

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