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Dolphin Quest crew wearing wetsuits checking the dolphin's lungs.

Results Published in The Journal of Experimental Biology

On July 8, 2015, the prestigious Journal of Experimental Biology published a first of its kind study providing new insights into how bottlenose dolphins breathe and handle dive related respiratory challenges. This study, which would have been extremely challenging to conduct in the wild, was hosted by the luxurious Kahala Hotel & Resort on Oahu, and represents a joint collaborative effort by Dolphin Quest, a dolphin interaction and conservation facility, and scientists from Texas A & M University – Corpus Christi, and Micah Brodsky, V.M.D. Consulting.

The study’s findings identified that the dolphins’ unusual lung anatomy allows them to inhale and exhale two to three times faster than humans, and their collapsible lungs likely helping them avoid decompression sickness. The study also produced valuable baseline dolphin lung function data from healthy dolphins providing veterinarians and scientists better tools for diagnosing and treating dolphins in a variety of situations such as during mass stranding events.

Andreas Fahlman, PhD, the lead author of the study and professor of biology at Texas A&M University – Corpus Christi collaborated with wildlife veterinarian Micah Brodsky, Oahu-based veterinarian and dolphin stranding responder Gregg Levine DVM, and Julie Rocho-Levine, Manager of Marine Animals at Dolphin Quest Oahu. By working with Dolphin Quest, Fahlman had access to a safe and effective environment where the dolphins voluntarily participated in the study.

“The sympathetic, trusting relationship between the dolphins and their trainers was essential for our success. Even though the dolphins were trained to respond to their trainers’ directions, they only participated voluntarily, which allowed us to test important physiological variables with no stress to the animals,” says Fahlman. Such studies on physiological function would be extremely difficult to perform on wild animals and would take several years.

Fahlman used a custom-made portable device called a pneumotachometer to measure the dolphin breaths (pictured). Julie and her team used positive reinforcement and slow approximations, or “baby steps” which allowed the dolphins to become accustomed to the presence of the device.

“Supporting marine life conservation is a core value at Dolphin Quest, so we were honored to assist Dr. Fahlman with this important study”, says Julie. “Novel training is so much fun for the dolphins, the trainers and also the resort guests who are lucky enough to witness or even participate.”

“Being able to fine tune the process and establish baseline data at Dolphin Quest, will contribute immensely to future dolphin studies in the wild,” says Gregg Levine DVM.

Since Dolphin Quest’s ocean water dolphin lagoon is open to the public, many hotel guests and visitors had the opportunity to see this groundbreaking study as it was conducted. Dolphin Quest and The Kahala Hotel & Resort have hosted numerous University level scientists over the years resulting in many peer reviewed scientific papers that have increased our collective knowledge of dolphins and how to protect them.

“The dolphins are VIP residents at our resort”, says Carmine Iommazzo, General Manager of The Kahala Hotel & Resort. “We are very proud to have Dolphin Quest as an incredible enhancement to the guest experience. It is a wonderful way for tourism and the scientific community to collaborate to raise awareness about the challenges wild dolphins face and the importance of protecting our marine environments.”