Forrest I. Townsend, DVM; Frank L. Deckert, CO
The development of light-weight/hydrodynamic saddle packs in which to house monitoring and telemetry instrumentation for short duration (1-4 days), "non-invasive" attachment to a cetacean is a desirable goal for the marine mammal research community.
Historically, the approach has been invasive procedures that require the boring of holes through the dorsal fin, through which attachment bolts are placed. This procedure involves some trauma to the cetacean, and has, on occasion, resulted in permanent damage to the dorsal fin. In addition, many contemporary designs do not take advantage of improved hydrodynamic materials or designs, and therefore may adversely affect the cetacean's dynamic activity as well as increase its level of energy consumption. Lacking a viable alternative, these procedures have become the accepted standard.
In search of a more suitable procedure, the team of Forrest Townsend, D.V.M., and Frank Deckert, C.O., has developed saddle pack concepts that employ light-weight materials and hydrodynamic design. Adherence to the dorsal fin is accomplished utilizing hydrodynamic forces and suction cups, thus negating the need for an "invasive" attachment. Initial prototypes were fabricated in the laboratory at Fort Walton Orthopedic, with help from the orthotic and prosthetic technical staff. The designs were refined through testing on captive bottlenose dolphins at the Gulfarium in Fort Walton Beach, Florida. These initial tests have proven highly successful, and the saddle pack device appears to have great potential for furthering both captive and free-ranging dolphin research. To our knowledge, these prototype saddle packs are the only such devices that have been demonstrated to have the adhesion capabilities to adhere for extended periods of time without repositioning; without the use of through-the-fin bolts; and without any apparent signs of damage to the dolphin's dorsal fin.
Current research and evaluation is ongoing to verify results and improve design of this new saddle pack device. This research includes captive dolphins at the Gulfarium, Fort Walton Beach, Florida; NRaD open-ocean dolphins, San Diego, California; free-ranging dolphins in Sarasota Bay, Florida; and some stranded cetaceans as well.