Current Scientific Studies

All Current Scientific Studies Supported by Dolphin Quest

Dolphin Quest’s support for various scientific studies is done via:

  • Financial contributions
  • Donating Crew Member time and expertise
  • Providing access to Dolphin Quest dolphins

Click on a study name below to learn more about Dolphin Quest’s current scientific studies and research.

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Study

Project Investigator

Affiliate Organization

1. Health Assessment of Bottlenose Dolphins in Sarasota Bay, Florida Randy Wells Chicago Zoological Society
2. Movements, Habitat Use, and Diving Behavior of Hawaiian Odontocetes: Assessment of High-Density Areas, Stock Boundaries, and Behavior in Relation to Habitat Robin W. Baird Cascadia Research Collective
3. Dolphin Lung Study Andreas Fahlman Oceanografic
4. Bermuda Cetacean Sightings Project Robyn Trainor Dolphin Quest
5. Improving Non-Invasive Suction Cup Attachments for Electronic Data Loggers for Tursiops truncatus and Other Cetaceans Michael Moore Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute
6. Tissue Archival and Evaluation of Trace Elements, Organic Contaminants, and Metabolic Profiles in Bottlenose Dolphins Under Human Care Colleen E. Bryan National Institute of Standards and Technology
7. Preliminary Investigation for Detecting Immunoreactive Serum and Urine Concentrations of Prolactin and Temporal Changes During Pregnancy and Early Post-Partum in Bottlenose Dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) Kristi West Hawaii Pacific University
8. Water Quality/Stream Monitoring Andrea Rosse Goose Creek Association
9. Health Assessments Using Photogrammetry Andreas Fahlman Texas A&M, Dolphin Quest
10. The Importance of Being Active: Persistent Monitoring of Managed Marine Mammals for Improved Health and Well-Being Alex Shorter University of Michigan, Oceanogràfic Valencia Duke University
11. Postnatal Development of the Muscle Biochemistry that Supports Diving in a Deep Diving Hawaiian Cetacean, the Melon Headed Whale (Peponocephala electra) Shawn Noren, Kristi West Institute of Marine Science, University of California, University of Hawaii
12. Understanding the Evolution of Protective Mechanisms Against Hypoxia in Marine Mammals Jason Somarelli, Andreas Fahlman Duke University, Oceanografic Foundation
13. Acoustic Species Recognition in Delphinids Julie Oswald, Vincent Janik University of St. Andrews
14. Cardiorespiratory Physiology in the Bottlenose Dolphin Before, During, and After Breath-Holding Andreas Fahlman, Daniel Garcia-Parraga, Stefan Miedler Fundación Oceanografic de la Comunidad Valenciana
15. Dolphin Day Ethogram Krysta Walker, Janessa Kozlowski Dolphin Quest Bermuda
16. Marine Resources of Wai’ōhinu (Hawai’i Island) William Gilmartin, Megan R. Lamson Hawaii Wildlife Fund
17. Using a Dorsal Fin Photo Dataset from a Zoological Population to Inform Population Estimates of Wild Cetaceans Andrew Read, Austin Allen Duke University
18. Investigating Sound Propagation in the Head of Odontocetes Aude Pacini, Ted Cranford Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology, University of Hawaii Manoa, UCSD, SDSU

Improving Non-invasive Suction Cup Attachments for Electronic Data Loggers for Tursiops truncatus and other Cetaceans

Species: Bottlenose dolphins

Project Investigator: Michael Moore

Affiliate Organization: Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Boston, MA

Project Started: 2012

Dolphin Quest Supported: 2012 to present

Project Description: The overall goal of this project is to enhance the duration of suction cups when deployed as the attachment mechanism for short term archival tags.

Conservation Benefit: These studies will help researchers better interpret data in numerous field studies with wild dolphins and result in the development of even better data loggers in the future.


Tissue Archival and Evaluation of Trace Elements, Organic Contaminants, and Metabolic Profiles in Bottlenose Dolphins Under Human Care

Species: Bottlenose dolphins

Project Investigator: Colleen E. Bryan, Tracey Schock, Rebecca Puch, John Kucklick

Affiliate Organization: National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST)

Project Started: 2010

Dolphin Quest Supported: 2010 – present

Project Description: The objectives of this research were to archive blood, milk and diet samples; and analyze these samples for trace elements, organic pollutants and metabolites to examine exposure and metabolic changes over time.

Marine Mammal Benefit: Bottlenose dolphins have been proposed as a good sentinel species for coastal ecosystem health and human exposures to contaminants in seafood due to some of their life history traits, such as being relatively long-lived mammals and the frequency at which they produce a single offspring at a time, and they share some of the same coastal resources as humans. For this reason, the data obtained provides valuable information for marine mammals.

Conservation Benefit: Collecting and analyzing baseline blood, milk and tissue samples from dolphins in human-care will help scientists compare and evaluate levels in wild dolphins to test the health of their coastal ecosystem.


Preliminary Investigation for Detecting Immunoreactive Serum and Urine Concentrations of Prolactin and Temporal Changes during Pregnancy and Early Post-Partum in Bottlenose Dolphins (Tursiops truncatus)

Species: Bottlenose dolphins

Project Investigator: Kristi West

Affiliate Organization: Hawaii Pacific University

Project Started: 2013

Dolphin Quest Supported: 2013 to present

Project Description: A preliminary investigation is to validate a prolactin hormone immunoassay (a procedure for measuring this hormone) for use with dolphin serum or urine in dolphins. If successful, initially characterize prolactin during pregnancy and post-partum as prerequisites before exploring the full potential for application of a prolactin-based immunoassay as a specific hormonal measure to be diagnostic of pregnancy status and, perhaps, indicative of mammary gland development and predictive of parturition and successful lactation.

Conservation Benefit: If criteria can be established, collecting dolphin urines may become an alternative in monitoring dolphin pregnancies through hormone evaluations


Goose Creek Stream Monitoring Program

Project Investigator: Andrea Rosse

Affiliate Organization: Goose Creek Association

Project Started: 2008

Dolphin Quest Supported: 2008 to present

Project Website: http://www.goosecreek.org

Project Description: The fundamental mission is to protect and preserve the natural resources of 835 stream bank miles of Goose Creek watershed. Monitoring and testing of 13 macro invertebrate, E-coli and turbidity. Conduct a variety of tests through support of stream monitoring volunteers.

Conservation Benefit: Stream monitoring helps determine water quality in our streams, which aids us in keeping our waterways healthy, preserved and protected.


Health Assessments using Photogrammetry

Species: Bottlenose dolphins

Project Investigators: Andreas Fahlman, Danielle Kleinhenz, Brooke Lagunas, Michelle Campbell

Affiliate Organizations: Texas A&M, Dolphin Quest

Project Started: 2015

Dolphin Quest Supported: 2015 to present

Project Description: The purpose of this study is to track and document growth rates of several calves through the first year of life. There is little known about calf growth rate, which is vital to determining the health of the calf. Photos taken at regular intervals will be used to monitor the development of body size of calves during their first year of life.

Marine Mammal Benefit / Conservation Benefit: This valuable baseline calf growth rate data will be available to assist with health assessments of calves in human care or in the wild.


The Importance of Being Active: Persistent Monitoring of Managed Marine Mammals for Improved Health and Well-Being

Species: Bottlenose dolphins

Project Investigators: Alex Shorter, Andreas Fahlman, Andy Read, Austin Allen

Affiliate Organizations: University Michigan, Oceanogràfic Valencia Duke University

Project Started: 2015

Dolphin Quest Supported: 2015 to present

Project Description: This study will develop biologging technology to quantify animal activity and welfare specifically for animals in human care. In addition to sensors temporarily secured to the animals, we will incorporate datafrom video and human observation to provide important contextual information to inform the wearable sensor measurements. This research will build on preliminary work conducted at DQ and will create new fundamental scientific knowledge about marine mammal biomechanics and energy expenditure.

Marine Mammal Benefit / Conservation Benefit: Develop conservation tools that will be used to collect data that can help improve health and well-being of animals in human care. The resulting biologging technology and algorithms will address a significant knowledge gap about the energetic cost of free swimming dolphins.


Postnatal Development of the Muscle Biochemistry that Supports Diving in a Deep Diving Hawaiian Cetacean, the Melon Headed Whale (Peponocephala electra)

Species: Melon headed whale

Project Investigators: Shawn Noren, Kristi West

Affiliate Organizations: Institute of Marine Science, University of California, University of Hawaii

Project Started: 2017

Dolphin Quest Supported: 2017 to 2018

Project Description: Little is known about the postnatal development of the physiological characteristics that support breath-hold in cetaceans, especially in deep diving species, despite their need to swim and dive at birth. This is the first investigation of the ontogeny of the biochemistry of the locomotor muscle in Hawaiian melon headed whales, a deep-water species that feeds entirely onpelagic fish, squid, and occasionally crustaceans in water up to 5,000 feet deep.

Marine Mammal / Conservation Benefit: Quantifications of the onboard SCUBA tank (body oxygen stores that includes myoglobinin the muscle), enables scientists to predict the foraging capabilities of cryptic marine mammals such as these. With this knowledge, we can determine how marine mammals may be able to change their foraging behaviors when faced with times of limited prey availability and anthropogenic disturbance.


Understanding the Evolution of Protective Mechanisms Against Hypoxia in Marine Mammals

Species: Bottlenose dolphins

Project Investigators: Jason Somarelli, Andreas Fahlman

Affiliate Organizations: Duke University, Oceanografic Foundation

Project Started: 2018

Dolphin Quest Supported: 2018 – 2019

Project Description: As marine mammals dive, they encounter conditions of extremely low oxygen, known as hypoxia. The hypoxic stress encountered by these animals is far beyond what any human can tolerate; it is clear that marine mammals have evolved physiological and molecular mechanisms to survive in severely hypoxic conditions. Yet, the genetic and molecular mechanisms underlying this hypoxic stress resistance are poorly understood. This study would like to identify the genes that are differentially turned on and off in marine mammals as their cells enter a state of hypoxia. These changes will be compared to human cells undergoing hypoxia to better understand how marine mammals have adapted to tolerate hypoxia.

Marine Mammal / Conservation Benefit: This work has broad implications not only for understanding evolution of marine organisms, but also for human health. This work has implications for better understanding and treating things like cancer, heart attacks, and surgery patients undergoing anesthesia.


Acoustic Species Recognition in Delphinids

Species: Bottlenose dolphins

Project Investigators: Julie Oswald, Vincent Janik

Affiliate Organizations: University of St Andrews

Project Started: 2018

Dolphin Quest Supported: 2018

Project Description: In this project it will be examined whether dolphins use whistles to communicate species identity by playing whistles of different species to bottlenose dolphins and looking for differences in vocal behavior and swimming behavior in response to whistles produced by different species.

Marine Mammal / Conservation Benefit: Results of this study will provide a deeper understanding of dolphin communication and will provide valuable information for developing methods to identify whistles to species in acoustic recordings.


Cardiorespiratory Physiology in the Bottlenose Dolphin Before, During, and After Breath-Holding

Species: Bottlenose dolphins

Project Investigators: Andreas Fahlman, Daniel Garcia-Parraga, Stefan Miedler

Affiliate Organizations: Fundación Oceanografic de la Comunidad Valenciana

Project Started: 2017

Dolphin Quest Supported: 2017 – 2019

Project Description: This study aims to carefully look at the heart rate responses that are associated with breath-hold diving in a supreme diver, the bottlenose dolphin. One of the traits these animals have evolved is the dive response, where the heart rate decreases, and the volume of blood pumped out by the heart decreases while underwater. This study uses medical technology developed for humans to look at the dolphin heart and determine the changes in heart rate and blood flow before, during and after the dolphin’s voluntary hold their breath at the surface.

Marine Mammal / Conservation Benefit: The results from this study will significantly improve our understanding how these amazing animals can extend time underwater and will help us understand the challenges they are facing with changes in the climate. Validation studies like these cannot be done on free-ranging animals and the dolphins at Dolphin Quest will help save their cousins in the wild.


Dolphin Day Ethogram

Species: Bottlenose dolphins

Project Investigators: Krysta Walker, Janessa Kozlowski

Affiliate Organizations: Dolphin Quest Bermuda

Project Started: 2016

Dolphin Quest Supported: 2016 – 2019

Project Description: Trained observers gather normative data on a dolphin’s daily activities. Normative data will indicate what dolphins are doing based on current operating schedules. This will establish a baseline for dolphins under human care at a Dolphin Quest facility.

Marine Mammal / Conservation Benefit: This data will serve as an indicator of wellness for each individual animal.


Marine Resources of Wai’ōhinu (Hawai’i Island)

Project Investigators: William Gilmartin, Megan R. Lamson

Affiliate Organizations: Hawaii Wildlife Fund

Project Started: 2016

Dolphin Quest Supported: 2016 – 2019

Project Websitehttp://www.wildhawaii.org/

Project Description: Identify the gaps in marine resource survey data along the two miles of shoreline adjacent to the State Forest Reserve in Waiʻōhinu, Kaʻū (fishes, invertebrates, marine mammals, seabirds, sea turtles). Fill those knowledge gaps along this remote shoreline.

Conservation Benefits: Disseminate this information about native and protected wildlife to State managers, non-profit partners, and community members


Using a Dorsal Fin Photo Dataset from a Zoological Population to Inform Population Estimates of Wild Cetaceans

Species: Bottlenose dolphins

Project Investigators: Andrew Read, Austin Allen

Affiliate Organizations: Duke University

Project Started: 2017

Dolphin Quest Supported: 2017 – present

Project Description: Photo-identification of cetaceans often relies on using distinctive markings to identify individuals. This project would aid photographic capture-recapture population-estimate models by helping to determine the time scales at which dorsal fin markings change.

Marine Mammal / Conservation Benefits: This project would enable researchers to better determine if an individual has been re-sighted or if an individual with a certain mark is not likely to be re-sighted by using that feature. Refined population estimates inform annual federal limits on the number of cetaceans permitted to be killed or harmed due to fishing, pile driving, and other maritime activities.


Investigating Sound Propagation in the Head of Odontocetes

Species: Bottlenose dolphins

Project Investigators: Aude Pacini, Ted Cranford

Affiliate Organizers: Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology, University of Hawaii Manoa, UCSD, SDSU

Project Started: 2017

Dolphin Quest Supported: 2017 – 2018

Project Description: This work provides a better understanding of the acoustic and hearing processes odontocetes use.

Marine Mammal / Conservation Benefit: The results will provide empirical data to create finite element models with non-readily available marine mammal species.