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Bottlenose Dolphin Studies


Studies in this category investigate specific organs, anatomy, and physiological and biological systems to contribute to the current understanding of bottlenose dolphins. This valuable research allows for advances in veterinary medicine, and impacts dolphin populations under human care, as well as those in the wild.

  Completed Studies   DQ Supported
1 Ciguatera Toxins Project   1989  
2 Clinical Determination of Immune System Function in Dolphins   1990  
3 Social Functions of Signature Whistles and Whistle Imitation in Bottlenose Dolphins   1996  
4 Thermal Status of Tursiops truncatus   2001-2002  
5 Dolphin Echocardiography Project   2004-2005  
6 Dolphin thyroid study   2005  
7 Public service announcement regarding feeding of wild dolphins   2006-2007  
8 Renal health study   2006-2009  
9 Establishing normal ophthalmic ultrasound parameters for Tursiops truncatus   2007-2008  
10 The Role of Tear Film in Dolphins   2008  
11 Dolphin renal health study working group   2008  
12 Learning in human-dolphin interactions at zoological facilities   2008-2009  
13 Analysis and measurement of ocular structures in dolphins using 10 and 20 MHz diagnostic ophthalmic ultrasound   2009  
14 Signal meaning and long-term social recognition of vocalizations in Tursiops truncatus   2009-2010  
15 Investigation of biosonar signal production mechanisms in bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus)   2009-2011  
16 Dolphin Health: Temporal Acquisition of Immunologic Maturity in Young Animals and Evaluation of Transport-associated Stress   2010-2011  
17 Evaluation of the renal and perirenal area with B-mode ultrasound in dolphins for evidence of ‘incidental’ gas bubble formation.   2011  
18 Characterization of Mucin-Type Glycoproteins in Marine Mammals   2011  
19 The Signal Value of Signature Whistles in Vocal Matching Interactions   2011  
20 Assessment of Ciguatoxin Exposure in Dolphin Quest Dolphins through Ciguatoxin Analysis and Blood Gene Expression Analysis in Dolphin Blood   2012  
21 Marine Mammal Research in Aquaria helps with the conservation and management of their wild cousins: two case studies (dolphins & walruses)   2013  
22 Estimating Abundance of Spinner Dolphins off the Kona Coast of Hawai’i as Time/Area Closure Management Actions are Implemented   2013  
23 Dietary Consumption of Tannins in Common Bottlenose Dolphins’ (Tursiops truncatus) Native and Non-Native Diets and its Possible Effects on Iron Absorption   2015  
24 Effects of Oral Hydration Therapy on Markers of Renal Function in Bottlenose Dolphins   2015
25 The evaluation of serum cytokine profiles upon treatment with IMUNO-2865® immune supplement (Animal Necessity) in bottlenose dolphins with gastritis   2015
26 Transesophageal echocardiographic evaluation of heart failure in older dolphins   2015

Ciguatera Toxins Project

ProjectInvestigators – Y. Hokama, M.D., PH.D., John A. Burns School of Medicine, Department of Pathology
AffiliateOrganizations –  University of Hawaii at Honolulu, Dolphin Quest and Waikoloa Marine Life Fund
DolphinQuestSupported – 1989
Project Description
The focus of this project was the development of a diagnostic procedure for identifying Ciguatera toxins in the living patient. This procedure determines the presence of Ciguatera toxins in an ailing patient who may have ingested tainted fish.
♦ This procedure aids both human and marine mammal health and safety in all tropical waters.


Clinical Determination of Immune System Function in Dolphins

Project Investigators – Neylan Vedros, Ph.D.
Affiliate Organizations – University of California at Berkeley, School of Public Health; Dolphin Quest and Waikoloa Marine Life Fund
Dolphin Quest Supported – 1990
Project Description
A Radial Immuno-Diffusion (RID) Agar Plate procedure for quantitative determination of immune system health of bottlenose dolphins was developed.
♦ This clinical procedure greatly assists veterinarians working to save stranded or beached dolphins throughout the world.


Social Functions of Signature Whistles and Whistle Imitation in Bottlenose Dolphins

Project Investigators – Peter Tyack, Ph.D. and Amy Samuels, Ph.D
Affiliate Organizations – Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Boston, MA; and Dolphin Quest
Species – Bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus)
Dolphin Quest Supported – 1996
Project Description
Project evaluated vocalizations within the context of immediate behavioral interactions and long-term social relationships to determine the functions of signature and imitated whistles.
♦ This study is one of the most detailed assessments of social communication in a cetacean species.


Thermal Status of Tursiops truncatus

Project Investigators – Terrie Williams, Ph. D., University of California, Santa Cruz, CA; Anne Pabst, Ph. D., University of North Carolina, Wilmington, NC
Affiliate Organizations – Dolphin Quest Oahu, University of California at Santa Cruz, and University of North Carolina at Wilmington
Species – Bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops truncatus)
Dolphin Quest Supported – 2001-2002
Project Description
Examined the thermoregulatory responses of small cetaceans residing in tropical regions
Developed non-invasive methods for assessing thermal profiles in dolphins
Compared the thermoregulatory responses of resting, swimming and diving cetaceans, and compared the thermal profiles of several species of small cetaceans including bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) and rough toothed dolphins (Steno bredanensis)
Research is aimed at understanding whether hyperthermia (excess heat) is a potential stressor experienced by dolphins that are chased and captured in the EPT tuna purse-seine fishery.


Dolphin Echocardiography Project

Project Investigators – Mark Sklansky, M.D. and Dielle Havlis
Affiliate Organizations – Childrens Hospital Los Angeles, Dolphin Quest Oahu
Species – Bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops truncatus)
Dolphin Quest Supported – 2004-2005
Project Description
Echocardiography, or cardiac ultrasound, has become the single most important tool for the study of human cardiac anatomy and function. Evaluation of the dolphin heart, both for routine surveillance and in cases of suspected heart disease, has been limited by challenging behavioral logistics, risks of sedation, and poor sonographic windows.
This project aims at using transesophageal and transthoracic echocardiographic imaging to obtain high quality images of all four heart chambers of the dolphin heart without the use of sedation.
Results from this study will help advance dolphin veterinary medicine by providing normal data and images of dolphin hearts for comparison to cases of suspected heart disease.


Dolphin thyroid study

Project Investigators – Kristi West
Affiliate Organizations – Hawaii Pacific University
Species – Bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops truncatus)
Dolphin Quest Supported – 2005
Project Description
Laboratory and data analyses of thyroid hormone values, ultrasound measurements and biological and environmental iodine levels.
Marine Mammal Conservation Benefit
Improved understanding of dolphin physiology and biology


Public service announcement regarding feeding of wild dolphins

Project Investigators – Randy S. Wells
Affiliate Organizations – National Marine Fisheries Service, Sarasota Dolphin Research Program and Dolphin Research Center
Species – Bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops truncatus)
Dolphin Quest Supported – 2006-2007
View onlinehttp://www.dontfeedwilddolphins.org/
Project Description
This project produced a public service announcement to educate against the public practice of feeding wild dolphins
Human feeding of wild dolphins is a continuing and growing problem in the southeastern United States. It is believed that this may be contributing to the increased number of mortality and serious injuries from entanglement in and depredation of recreational fishing gear in Florida and elsewhere.
These actions are illegal under the federal Marine Mammal Protection Act, and they are harmful for the animals.
Marine Mammal/Conservation Benefit
Public education to increase awareness and change behavior that is negatively impacting wild dolphins


Renal health study

Project Investigators – Wong, S., Au, W. W. I., Richlen, M.
Affiliate Organizations – John G. Shedd Aquarium, National Ocean Service’s Health Evaluation and Risk Assessment (HERA) project for wild bottlenose dolphins, Navy Marine Mammal Program
Species – Bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops truncatus)
Dolphin Quest Supported – 2006-2009
Project Description
Evaluate renal (kidney) health in dolphin populations, risk factors for renal disease (for example, age, sex, location, diet, wild/captive status), the efficacy of renal disease and the use of a serum‐based glomerular filtration rate used in human medicine.
Marine Mammal/Conservation Benefit
Increase the body of knowledge surrounding dolphin renal health
Inform and support the development of renal health support and treatment for dolphins under human care


Establishing normal ophthalmic ultrasound parameters for Tursiops truncatus

Project Investigators – Yamagata, M., Gregg Levine
Affiliate Organizations – Schepens Eye Research Institute of Harvard Medical School, Dolphin Quest
Species – Bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops truncatus)
Dolphin Quest Supported – 2007-2008
Project Description
This project worked on establishing normal ophthalmic ultrasound parameters, developing improved “normal” ophthalmic ultrasound images for documentation of normal ultrasonographic anatomy; and documenting abnormal ophthalmic ultrasound images.
Marine Mammal/Conservation Benefit
By testing these methods in a controlled environment, we establish important baseline ophthalmic function information for the species that can be used for eye health evaluations of dolphins in human care or in the wild.


The Role of Tear Film in Dolphins

Project Investigators – Schwab, I.
Affiliate Organizations – University of California, Davis, Department of Ophthalmology
Species – Bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops truncatus)
Dolphin Quest Supported – 2008
Project Description
In order to determine the composition of dolphin tears, biochemical analyses of tears were performed.
Marine Mammal/Conservation Benefit
Contributes to the collective veterinary and biological knowledge of the dolphin ophthalmic system


Dolphin renal health study working group

Project Investigators – Risa Daniels
Affiliate Organizations – Navy Marine Mammal Program
Species – Bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops truncatus)
Dolphin Quest Supported – 2008
Project Description
Find an understanding of the impact of physiology, diet, activity, environment, and therapeutics on the formation, progression, and severity of kidney stones in dolphins.
Key findings to date have been the re-characterization of renal calculi (kidney stones).
Marine Mammal/Conservation Benefit
Increase the body of knowledge surrounding dolphin renal health
Inform and support the development of renal health support and treatment for dolphins under human care


Learning in human-dolphin interactions at zoological facilities

Project Investigators – Diane Sweeney
Affiliate Organizations – University of California, San Diego
Species – Bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops truncatus)
Dolphin Quest Supported – 2008-2009
Project Description
This social science research project interviewed visitors, spectators, and trainers, and surveyed past visitors through an electronic questionnaire to determine what and how learning occurred during dolphin encounters.
Investigate the role of interactive and display aquaria in guest education and conservation behavior change
Marine Mammal/Conservation Benefit
Inform and advise curriculum and program development to maximize learning and behavior change opportunities


Analysis and measurement of ocular structures in dolphins using 10 and 20 MHz diagnostic ophthalmic ultrasound

Project Investigators – Kendall, C.
Affiliate Organizations – Ophthalmic Echography Services
Species – Bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops truncatus)
Dolphin Quest Supported – 2009
Project Description
Analysis of normal ocular and orbital structures of dolphin eyes, both directly on the globe and through closed lids.
Marine Mammal/Conservation Benefit
Contributes to the collective veterinary and biological knowledge of the dolphin ophthalmic system


Signal meaning and long-term social recognition of vocalizations in Tursiops truncatus

Project Investigators – Jason Bruck
Affiliate Organizations – University of Chicago
Species – Bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops truncatus)
Dolphin QuestSupported – 2009-2010
Project Description
This project studied kin recognition, the meaning of dolphin signals as well as how long dolphins remember each other after separation using animals housed in eight zoos in the U.S. and Bermuda.
Marine Mammal/Conservation Benefit
Contribute to the data and knowledge on dolphin memory and cognitive abilities


Investigation of biosonar signal production mechanisms in bottlenose dolphins (Tusiops truncatus)

Project Investigators –  Lammers, M., Richlen, M., Au, W
Affiliate Organizations – Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology, University of Hawaii
Species – Bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops truncatus)
Dolphin Quest Support – 2009-2011
Project Description
This study investigated the sonar click production of a bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops truncatus) to establish whether the process that was observed in the beluga is common among other members of the odontocete sub-order.
Recorded emitted clicks at close range from the presumed sound source using suction cup hydrophones placed on the animal’s head near the blowhole and melon.
Marine Mammal/Conservation Benefit
Contributes to the knowledge of the biology, physiology, and function of echolocation in bottlenose dolphins


Dolphin Health: Temporal Acquisition of Immunologic Maturity in Young Animals and Evaluation of Transport-associated Stress

Project Investigators – Stott, J.
Affiliate Organizations – University of California, Davis
Species – Bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops truncatus)
Dolphin Quest Support – 2010-2011
Project Description
This project aims to study immune system maturation in juvenile dolphins and the degree and duration of any stress to dolphin immune systems associated with dolphin transports.
This study evaluates samples collected from Dolphin Quest animals this year on cellular and molecular levels.
Marine Mammal/Conservation Benefit
Findings may help maintain healthy immune systems for dolphins in human care and improve animal care programs.


Evaluation of the renal and perirenal area with B-mode ultrasound in dolphins for evidence of ‘incidental’ gas bubble formation.

Project Investigators – Dennison, S., Moore, M.
Affiliate Organizations – Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution
Species – Bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops truncatus)
Dolphin Quest Support – 2011
Project Description
Multifocal gas bubble formation has been documented in bycatch animals that have died at depth and in live stranded dolphins that have both survived after relocation and release or have been euthanized.
This part of the project aims to investigate if there is any evidence of renal or perirenal gas bubble formation in dolphins living under human care.
Marine Mammal/Conservation Benefit
Contributes to the knowledge of the biology and physiology in bottlenose dolphins


Characterization of Mucin-Type Glycoproteins in Marine Mammals

Project Investigators – Davis, R. K.
Affiliate Organizations – Schepens Eye Research Institute, Harvard Medical School
Species – Bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops truncatus)
Dolphin Quest Supported – 2011
Project Description
In all mammals, the mucosal barrier is the first line of defense against infection by environmental pathogens. However, little is known about the character of this barrier in marine mammals.
The purpose of our project is to characterize mechanisms that marine mammals have evolved to cope with the stresses of both the aquatic environment and exposure to air.
Marine Mammal/Conservation Benefit
Knowledge gained from a better understanding of how the immune system of marine mammals works, which will make it possible to translate our findings into development of preventive measures to help marine mammals cope with the challenges of a polluted marine environment, as well as the conditions that they are exposed to in rehabilitation or life in an aquarium.


The Signal Value of Signature Whistles in Vocal Matching Interactions

Project Investigators – Stephanie King, Janik, V.
Affiliate Organizations – Sea Mammal Research Unit, University of St Andrews, UK
Species – Bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops truncatus)
Dolphin Quest Supported – 2011
Project Description
The team will conduct sound playback experiments with bottlenose dolphins in aquaria which involve experimental playbacks of their signature whistles. The hypothesis tested will be that signature whistle matching mediates short-term relationships between conspecifics with rapid matching eliciting a stronger response and delayed matching a weaker response.
Marine Mammal/Conservation Benefit
Contributes to the data and knowledge on dolphin memory and cognitive abilities”


Assessment of Ciguatoxin Exposure in Dolphin Quest Dolphins through Ciguatoxin Analysis and Blood Gene Expression Analysis in Dolphin Blood

Project Investigator – Frances M. Van Dolah
Affiliate Organization – National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)
Dolphin Quest Supported – 2013
Project Description
Ciguatoxin is a seafood toxin that is acquired by eating fish that have consumed toxic single-celled marine organisms or fish that have consumed other fish that have become toxic.
Ciguatoxin is endemic to tropical reef areas, including the Hawaiian Islands, which could pose a health threat to Dolphin Quest dolphins if they forage on fish that freely enter the dolphin lagoons.
Analyze blood samples for ciguatoxin and compare to blood gene expression analysis in dolphin blood to measure exposure.


Marine Mammal Research in Aquaria helps with the conservation and management of their wild cousins: two case studies (dolphins & walruses)

Project Investigators – Shawn Noren, Mike Muraco, Jay Sweeney
Affiliate Organizations – Institute of Marine Science, University of California, Santa Cruz
Species – Bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops truncatus) and Walrus (Odobenus rosmarus)
Dolphin Quest Supported – 2013
Project Description
Human influences, such as fishery interactions and global climate change, are altering the marine environment at an accelerated rate.
Study of physiology can provide insight into how an animal can alter its behavior in order to cope with environmental perturbations.
Animals in human care are a valuable resource to address these questions because measuring physiology in the wild is difficult.
Provides two examples where research on marine mammals in human care provided data that is being used in management decisions.
Marine Mammal/Conservation Benefit
Quantifies and highlights the importance of research conducted with marine mammals under human care


Estimating Abundance of Spinner Dolphins off the Kona Coast of Hawai’i as Time/Area Closure Management Actions are Implemented

Project Investigator – David Johnston
Affiliate Organization – Duke University Marine Laboratory
Dolphin Quest Supported – 2012
Project Description
To further establish the abundance and vital rates of spinner dolphins occurring in Hawai’i
Continue collection of photo ID data


Dietary Consumption of Tannins in Common Bottlenose Dolphins’ (Tursiops truncatus) Native and Non-Native Diets and its Possible Effects on Iron Absorption

Project Investigators – Rita Stacey, Melissa Zabojnik
Affiliate Organizations – Chicago Zoological Society
Species – Bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops truncatus)
Dolphin Quest Supported – 2015
Project Description
♦ 
The study proposed is to research and compare the dietary consumption of tannin in wild dolphins to that of dolphins in human care
♦ This study will investigate whether a dolphin’s native diet contains more dietary tannin which may block iron absorption
Marine Mammal Benefit
♦ 
This study will give valuable baseline data which will be available to assist with health assessments of bottlenose dolphins


Effects of Oral Hydration Therapy on Markers of Renal Function in Bottlenose Dolphins

Project Investigators – Jennifer Camilleri
Affiliate Organizations – Royal Veterinary College
Species – Bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops truncatus)
Dolphin Quest Supported – 2015
Project Description
♦ 
The goal of the project is to investigate how oral hydration therapy (i.e. giving water via stomach tube) impacts various markers of hydration and kidney function
♦ The project will test blood and urine parameters following administration of oral water, and compare that to blood and urine samples collected when the animal has not been hydrated
Marine Mammal Benefit / Conservation Benefit
♦ 
Dolphins obtain their hydration through the fish they eat, this study will investigate if additional hydration through a stomach tube affects the kidney function


The evaluation of serum cytokine profiles upon treatment with IMUNO-2865® immune supplement (Animal Necessity) in bottlenose dolphins with gastritis

Project Investigators – Milton Levin, Gregg Levine
Affiliate Organizations – University of Connecticut, Dolphin Quest
Species – Bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops truncatus)
Dolphin Quest Supported – 2015
Project Description
♦ 
Cytokines are small cell-signaling proteins that are secreted by a diversity of cells of the immune system and have an effect on other cells.  The use of cytokines in medicine has expanded greatly and can be used in the differentiation of directed immune response to disease.
♦ The following hypothesis will be tested, “cytokine profiles will be different in dolphins with gastritis treated with Imuno-2865 and those not treated”; cytokine profiles will be measured in dolphins before, during and following treatment
Marine Mammal Benefit / Conservation Benefit
♦ 
This project may establish a treatment of gastritis in bottlenose dolphins


Transesophageal echocardiographic evaluation of heart failure in older dolphins

Project Investigators – Mark Sklansky, Gregg Levine, Michael Renner
Affiliate Organizations – UCLA, Dolphin Quest
Species – Bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops truncatus)
Dolphin Quest Supported – 2015
Project Description
♦ 
The purpose of the study is to evaluate the cardiac function of older dolphins
♦ Heart disease has been identified on necropsy and histopathology in bottlenose dolphins
Marine Mammal Benefit
♦ 
The study of older dolphins will possibly demonstrate findings consistent with heart failure, and lead to the ability to treat heart failure in older dolphins when appropriate
Conservation Benefit
♦ 
Using these methods in a controlled environment, this can establish important cardiac function information for the species that can be used for health evaluations of dolphins in human care or in the wild