A Review of Animal and Human Health Concerns During Capture-Release, Handling and Tagging of Free-Ranging Odontocetes
IAAAM Archive
Stephanie A. Norman1; Roderick C. Hobbs1; Jeff Foster2; J. Pete Schroeder3; Forrest I. Townsend4
1National Marine Fisheries Service, National Marine Mammal Laboratory, Seattle, WA, USA; 2International Marine Research Foundation, Auburn, WA, USA; 3Marine Mammal Research Associates, Sequim, WA, USA; 4Bayside Hospital for Animals, Fort Walton Beach, FL, USA


The capture-release of odontocetes allows for tag deployment which provides an opportunity to study behavior and habitat use by free-ranging animals, as well as clinical assessment of the animal and tissue collection.2,4,6,7 Here we recognize those elements that are common to most capture and tagging projects, identify collective knowledge of animal and human health concerns during handling of odontocetes and provide guidelines for safer handling techniques. Handling during tagging projects can involve chase, capture, restraint, manipulation, tag application, often removal from the water and release at the capture site. The risk of injury during capture will be reduced by using experienced personnel, adequate technical support and proper equipment. For the duration of the handling process, the animal's stimulus response should be monitored as well as its cardiovascular and respiratory function.1 Stress response of the odontocete is monitored by behavioral assessments, physiological monitoring and/or blood sampling. Possible complications from tag placement may include infection at the implant site leading to tag failure, behavioral alterations in response to tag placement and tag rejection.3,5 During handling of an odontocete, there is the potential for disease transmission between humans and the animal. Exposure to diseases is minimized by wearing protective clothing and gear and exercising caution when working around the animal's blowhole.


The authors would like to thank Brad Hanson, Tony Martin, Michael Scott, Bill Walker, and Randy Wells for their insights and helpful comments on the manuscript. Karna McKinney of the Alaska Fisheries Science Center Graphics Unit kindly prepared the figures. Reviews of this document were made by Brian Fadely and Kim Shelden, both biologists at the National Marine Mammal Laboratory (NMML) of the Alaska Fisheries Science Center, NMFS, NOAA. Doug DeMaster, Jim Lee and Gary Duker provided valuable reviews as did Stephen Raverty, Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Fisheries, Abbotsford, British Columbia, Canada. Finally, the authors would like to thank Sam Ridgway and an anonymous reviewer for very constructive comments and suggestions. This report was funded by the National Marine Fisheries Service, Contract # 40-AB-NF-112103.


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4.  Schwacke LH, Voit EO Hansen LJ, Wells RS, Mitchum GB, Hohn AA, Fair PA. 2002. Probabilistic risk assessment of reproductive effects of polychlorinated biphenyls on bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) from the southeast United States coast. Environ. Toxicol. Chem. 21(12):2752-2764.

5.  Tanaka S. 1987. Satellite radio tracking of bottlenose dolphins Tursiops truncatus. Nippon Suisan Gakkaishi 53:1327-1338.

6.  Wells RS, Rhinehart HL, Hansen LJ, Sweeney JC, Townsend FI, Stone R, Casper D, Scott MD, Hohn AA, Rowles TK. In press. Bottlenose dolphins as marine ecosystem sentinels: developing a health monitoring system. Ecol. Health.

7.  Wells RS. 2003. Dolphin social complexity: lessons from long-term study and life history. In: F.B.M. de Waal and P.L. Tyack (eds.) Animal Social Complexity: intelligence, culture, and individualized societies. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts. Pp. 32-56.

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Stephanie A. Norman

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