Syncope and Behavioral Disorders in the Recovery of a Specimen of Stenella coeuroleoalba
IAAAM Archive
Ferran Alegre
Centro de Recuperación de Animales Marinos de Catalunya, CRAM, Barcelona, Spain


In May 2000 a young male white sided dolphin (Stenella coeuroleoalba) appeared a few meters off the beach at Mataró (Catalunya, Spain). A few hours later the animal beached and was immediately taken to the installations of the Marine Animal Recovery Center (Centro de Recuperación de Animales Marinos, CRAM).

The dolphin was found to be weak, emaciated, dehydrated and ataxic. The animal was placed in a recovery pool and subjected to observation for 24 hours, with the performing of complete blood, stool and spiracle cytology evaluations. Treatment was initially programmed in the form of rehydration plus antibiotic coverage, with at first semi-forced feeding (squid), which the animal posteriorly accepted without effort.

The blood tests were unremarkable, though in the first 72 hours the dolphin suffered syncopal episodes that for short periods of time caused the animal to sink to the bottom of the pool. On the fourth day the dolphin regurgitated a significant volume of strongly stained plastic, with no further syncopal episodes. The addition of cimetidine to the treatment led to the initiation of clear improvement. In this case the weakness and dehydration, together with vagotonic stimulation of gastric origin, were postulated as the causes underlying the observed syncope. Such observations are relative frequent in this species, and have led to asphyxia and death in some cases of attempted recovery (Kees van Groot, personal communication).

In parallel from the start and independently of the clinical course, the animal maintained a constant day and night pattern of swimming superficially in counterclockwise circles of about two meters in diameter, in the same area of the pool. X-ray examinations were made to discard locomotor lesions, and hydrophonic sound recordings were made to evaluate the emission of clicks and to obtain further information on the sensory capacity of the animal. The tests revealed no locomotor disorders, and the sound recordings confirmed adequate emitting and reception performance.

The dolphin was then moved to a closed-off area in the sea. In only a few hours the change in environmental conditions induced a radical behavioral change, with the adoption of normal swimming patterns for the species. Sound recordings were again obtained for comparative purposes, and in view of the complete recovery of the animal, reintroduction into the open sea was decided 14 days after admission to the Center. Reintroduction proved possible thanks to the collaboration of different organizations that allowed real-time knowledge of the location of nearby groups of individuals of Stenella, thus allowing reintroduction of the animal into a numerous group of dolphins located 16 miles from the closed-off zone.

Considering the manifest recovery difficulties encountered with this particular species, the present experience--with the general tests and clinical evaluations made, and the audiovisual recordings obtained--affords data of interest for the management and clinical and behavioral interpretation of Stenella coeuroleoalba in captivity.


The recovery of this animal was made possible by the help of volunteers and technicians of the CRAM, and especially of S. Pont, E. Obon, A. Valmaseda and O. Cabezon. I also wish to thank the help of M. Domingo of the Faculty of Veterinary Science of Barcelona Autonomous University, the technicians of Mundomar, the Barcelona Zoo and the Generalitat de Catalunya--without which the resolution of this case would not have been possible. Finally, my warmest thanks to my colleague Tenesoya Pawlowsky for her patience and persistence in making this study possible.


There are no references because this case was totally based on the practice experience.

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Ferran Alegre

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