Clinicopathologic Findings from Atlantic Bottlenose Dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) Inhabiting the Indian River Lagoon, Florida
IAAAM 2005
Juli D. Goldstein1; Eric Reese1; Rene A. Varela1; R.H Defran1; Stephen D. McCulloch1; Gregory D. Bossart1; John S. Reif2; Patricia Fair3
1Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institution, Ft. Pierce, FL, USA; 2Department of Environmental and Radiological Health Sciences, Colorado State University, Fort Collins, CO, USA; 3National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, NOS Center for Coastal Environmental Health and Biomolecular Research, Charleston, SC, USA


A joint five-year comprehensive research project was initiated in 2003 between Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institution in Ft. Pierce, Florida, and the National Ocean Service Center for Coastal Environmental Health and Biomolecular Research at Charleston, South Carolina. The goal of this project is to study the health of Atlantic bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops truncatus) populations inhabiting the Indian River Lagoon (IRL), Fl and the coastal waters of Charleston, SC. This presentation examines the hematologic, serum biochemical, and cytologic variables in the IRL dolphins to establish normal baseline values, which will be useful for further health evaluations of these dolphins.

Sixty-three samples were analyzed for serum biochemistry and 60 samples for hematology. Sixty-two gastric, fecal and blowhole specimens were also examined. The ages of dolphins examined ranged from 3.5 years-26 years, and only apparently healthy dolphins were included in this study. Clinical health was based on veterinary physical exam evaluations. Animals exhibiting lesions such as lobomycosis or papillomas were automatically excluded.

One-way ANOVAs were preformed on all hematological and biochemical values. Statistically significant hematologic findings were as follows: females had a higher mean PCV value than males; however, there were no significant differences between pregnant females and non-pregnant female hematologic values. Juvenile animals (< 6 years) had a higher mean MCH than adults (>6 years), and adults had a higher relative percentage of segmented neutrophils. Differences in serum biochemistry were also found: females had a greater mean value than males for sodium, BUN, BUN/creatinine ratios, CPK, cholesterol, triglycerides, and iron. Non-pregnant females had a higher mean TIBC and albumin-2 than pregnant females. Juveniles had higher mean values than adults for BUN, BUN/creatinine ratios, CPK, triglycerides, iron, PSAT, and lipase.

No significant pathologic findings were present in the fecal and blowhole cytologies for both years. However, 24% (7/29) of the dolphins examined in 2003 had evidence of gastric inflammation, and 13.8% (4/29) of those animals exhibited severe gastric inflammation. In 2004 only 4.2% (1/24) of the population exhibited mild or moderate gastric inflammation, no severe inflammation was present.

Atlantic bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) represent one of the apex predators within the Indian River Lagoon, yet are one of the least studied wildlife groups occurring within and along the IRL. No comprehensive health assessment of bottlenose dolphins has been conducted for the IRL system, and it has been over 26 years since the last health-based study of IRL dolphins was completed.1 These findings and analyses represent the most complete hematologic, serum biochemistry and cytologic analyses reports to date for the IRL dolphin population and will provide a useful baseline for future studies of these dolphin, as well as other free-ranging and captive bottlenose dolphin populations.


1.  Bossart GD. The Indian River Lagoon Dolphin Health Assessment Project: A Sentinel for Emerging Marine Mammal Disease and Ecosystem Health. Proceedings of the Zoo and Aquariums: Committed to Conservation Conference. AZA. Cocoa Beach, Florida, January 2005.

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Juli D. Goldstein

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