Comparative analysis of three brevetoxin-associated bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops truncatus) mortality events in the Florida Panhandle region (USA).
ABSTRACT: In the Florida Panhandle region, bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) have been highly susceptible to large-scale unusual mortality events (UMEs) that may have been the result of exposure to blooms of the dinoflagellate Karenia brevis and its neurotoxin, brevetoxin (PbTx). Between 1999 and 2006, three bottlenose dolphin UMEs occurred in the Florida Panhandle region. The primary objective of this study was to determine if these mortality events were due to brevetoxicosis. Analysis of over 850 samples from 105 bottlenose dolphins and associated prey items were analyzed for algal toxins and have provided details on tissue distribution, pathways of trophic transfer, and spatial-temporal trends for each mortality event. In 1999/2000, 152 dolphins died following extensive K. brevis blooms and brevetoxin was detected in 52% of animals tested at concentrations up to 500 ng/g. In 2004, 105 bottlenose dolphins died in the absence of an identifiable K. brevis bloom; however, 100% of the tested animals were positive for brevetoxin at concentrations up to 29,126 ng/mL. Dolphin stomach contents frequently consisted of brevetoxin-contaminated menhaden. In addition, another potentially toxigenic algal species, Pseudo-nitzschia, was present and low levels of the neurotoxin domoic acid (DA) were detected in nearly all tested animals (89%). In 2005/2006, 90 bottlenose dolphins died that were initially coincident with high densities of K. brevis. Most (93%) of the tested animals were positive for brevetoxin at concentrations up to 2,724 ng/mL. No DA was detected in these animals despite the presence of an intense DA-producing Pseudo-nitzschia bloom. In contrast to the absence or very low levels of brevetoxins measured in live dolphins, and those stranding in the absence of a K. brevis bloom, these data, taken together with the absence of any other obvious pathology, provide strong evidence that brevetoxin was the causative agent involved in these bottlenose dolphin mortality events.
Project description:Sentinel species such as bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) can be impacted by large-scale mortality events due to exposure to marine algal toxins. In the Sarasota Bay region (Gulf of Mexico, Florida, USA), the bottlenose dolphin population is frequently exposed to harmful algal blooms (HABs) of Karenia brevis and the neurotoxic brevetoxins (PbTx; BTX) produced by this dinoflagellate. Live dolphins sampled during capture-release health assessments performed in this region tested positive for two HAB toxins; brevetoxin and domoic acid (DA). Over a ten-year study period (2000-2009) we have determined that bottlenose dolphins are exposed to brevetoxin and/or DA on a nearly annual basis (i.e., DA: 2004, 2005, 2006, 2008, 2009; brevetoxin: 2000, 2004, 2005, 2008, 2009) with 36% of all animals testing positive for brevetoxin (n?=?118) and 53% positive for DA (n?=?83) with several individuals (14%) testing positive for both neurotoxins in at least one tissue/fluid. To date there have been no previously published reports of DA in southwestern Florida marine mammals, however the May 2008 health assessment coincided with a Pseudo-nitzschia pseudodelicatissima bloom that was the likely source of DA observed in seawater and live dolphin samples. Concurrently, both DA and brevetoxin were observed in common prey fish. Although no Pseudo-nitzschia bloom was identified the following year, DA was identified in seawater, fish, sediment, snails, and dolphins. DA concentrations in feces were positively correlated with hematologic parameters including an increase in total white blood cell (p?=?0.001) and eosinophil (p<0.001) counts. Our findings demonstrate that dolphins within Sarasota Bay are commonly exposed to two algal toxins, and provide the impetus to further explore the potential long-term impacts on bottlenose dolphin health.
Project description:Marine animals represent a dynamic and complex habitat for diverse microbial communities. The microbiota associated with bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) are believed to influence their health status, but it remains poorly understood. We therefore characterized and compared the bacterial microbiome of bottlenose dolphins from six different anatomical sites that represent four different body systems (respiratory, digestive, reproductive, and integumentary). In this study, a total of 14 free-ranging bottlenose dolphins were sampled during the 2015 Sarasota Bay Dolphin Health Assessment. Bacterial diversity and abundance were assessed by PCR amplification of the hypervariable V3-V4 regions of the bacterial 16S rRNA gene for each sample, followed by sequencing on an Illumina MiSeq platform. Analysis showed that bottlenose dolphins harbor diverse bacterial communities with a unique microbial community at each body system. Additionally, the bottlenose dolphin bacterial microbiome was clearly distinct to the aquatic microbiome from their surrounding habitat. These results are in close agreement with other cetacean microbiome studies, while our study is the first to explore what was found to be a diverse bottlenose dolphin genital microbiome. The core bacterial communities identified in this study in apparently healthy animals might be informative for future health monitoring of bottlenose dolphins.
Project description:While the Mediterranean Sea has been designated as a Global Biodiversity Hotspot, assessments of cetacean population abundance are lacking for large portions of the region, particularly in the southern and eastern basins. The challenges and costs of obtaining the necessary data often result in absent or poor abundance information. We applied capture-recapture models to estimate abundance, survival and temporary emigration of odontocete populations within a 2,400 km2 semi-enclosed Mediterranean bay, the Gulf of Corinth. Boat surveys were conducted in 2011-2015 to collect photo-identification data on striped dolphins Stenella coeruleoalba, short-beaked common dolphins Delphinus delphis (always found together with striped dolphins in mixed groups) and common bottlenose dolphins Tursiops truncatus, totaling 1,873 h of tracking. After grading images for quality and marking distinctiveness, 23,995 high-quality photos were included in a striped and common dolphin catalog, and 2,472 in a bottlenose dolphin catalog. The proportions of striped and common dolphins were calculated from the photographic sample and used to scale capture-recapture estimates. Best-fitting robust design capture-recapture models denoted no temporary emigration between years for striped and common dolphins, and random temporary emigration for bottlenose dolphins, suggesting different residency patterns in agreement with previous studies. Average estimated abundance over the five years was 1,331 (95% CI 1,122-1,578) striped dolphins, 22 (16-32) common dolphins, 55 (36-84) "intermediate" animals (potential striped x common dolphin hybrids) and 38 (32-46) bottlenose dolphins. Apparent survival was constant for striped, common and intermediate dolphins (0.94, 95% CI 0.92-0.96) and year-dependent for bottlenose dolphins (an average of 0.85, 95% CI 0.76-0.95). Our work underlines the importance of long-term monitoring to contribute reliable baseline information that can help assess the conservation status of wildlife populations.
Project description:The common bottlenose dolphin, Tursiops truncatus, is widely distributed along the western coast of South America. In Ecuador, a resident population of bottlenose dolphins inhabits the inner estuarine area of the Gulf of Guayaquil located in the southwestern part of the country and is under threat from different human activities in the area. Only one genetic study on South American common bottlenose dolphins has been carried out to date, and understanding genetic variation of wildlife populations, especially species that are identified as threatened, is crucial for defining conservation units and developing appropriate conservation strategies. In order to evaluate the evolutionary link of this population, we assessed the phylogenetic relationships, phylogeographic patterns, and population structure using mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA). The sampling comprised: (i) 31 skin samples collected from free-ranging dolphins at three locations in the Gulf of Guayaquil inner estuary, (ii) 38 samples from stranded dolphins available at the collection of the "Museo de Ballenas de Salinas," (iii) 549 mtDNA control region (mtDNA CR) sequences from GenBank, and (iv) 66 concatenated sequences from 7-mtDNA regions (12S rRNA, 16S rRNA, NADH dehydrogenase subunit I-II, cytochrome oxidase I and II, cytochrome b, and CR) obtained from mitogenomes available in GenBank. Our analyses indicated population structure between both inner and outer estuary dolphin populations as well as with distinct populations of T. truncatus using mtDNA CR. Moreover, the inner estuary bottlenose dolphin (estuarine bottlenose dolphin) population exhibited lower levels of genetic diversity than the outer estuary dolphin population according to the mtDNA CR. Finally, the estuarine bottlenose dolphin population was genetically distinct from other T. truncatus populations based on mtDNA CR and 7-mtDNA regions. From these results, we suggest that the estuarine bottlenose dolphin population should be considered a distinct lineage. This dolphin population faces a variety of anthropogenic threats in this area; thus, we highlight its fragility and urge authorities to issue prompt management and conservation measures.
Project description:Food provisioning of wildlife is a major concern for management and conservation agencies worldwide because it encourages unnatural behaviours in wild animals and increases each individual's risk for injury and death. Here we investigate the contributing factors and potential fitness consequences of a recent increase in the frequency of human interactions with common bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) in Sarasota Bay, Florida. A rising proportion of the local long-term resident dolphin community is becoming conditioned to human interactions through direct and indirect food provisioning. We investigate variables that are affecting conditioning and if the presence of human-induced injuries is higher for conditioned versus unconditioned dolphins. Using the most comprehensive long-term dataset available for a free-ranging bottlenose dolphin population (more than 45 years; more than 32?000 dolphin group sightings; more than 1100 individuals), we found that the association with already conditioned animals strongly affected the probability of dolphins becoming conditioned to human interactions, confirming earlier findings that conditioning is partly a learned behaviour. More importantly, we found that conditioned dolphins were more likely to be injured by human interactions when compared with unconditioned animals. This is alarming, as conditioning could lead to a decrease in survival, which could have population-level consequences. We did not find a significant relationship between human exposure or natural prey availability and the probability of dolphins becoming conditioned. This could be due to low sample size or insufficient spatio-temporal resolution in the available data. Our findings show that wildlife provisioning may lead to a decrease in survival, which could ultimately affect population dynamics.
Project description:The current conservation status of the bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops truncatus) under the IUCN is 'least concern'. However, in the Caribbean, small and localized populations of the 'inshore form' may be at higher risk of extinction than the 'worldwide distributed form' due to a combination of factors including small population size, high site fidelity, genetic isolation, and range overlap with human activities. Here, we study the population genetic structure of bottlenose dolphins from the Archipelago of Bocas del Toro in Panama. This is a small population characterized by high site fidelity and is currently heavily-impacted by the local dolphin-watching industry. We collected skin tissue samples from 25 dolphins to study the genetic diversity and structure of this population. We amplified a portion of the mitochondrial Control Region (mtDNA-CR) and nine microsatellite loci. The mtDNA-CR analyses revealed that dolphins in Bocas del Toro belong to the 'inshore form', grouped with the Bahamas-Colombia-Cuba-Mexico population unit. They also possess a unique haplotype new for the Caribbean. The microsatellite data indicated that the Bocas del Toro dolphin population is highly structured, likely due to restricted movement patterns. Previous abundance estimates obtained with mark-recapture methods reported a small population of 80 dolphins (95% CI = 72-87), which is similar to the contemporary effective population size estimated in this study (Ne = 73 individuals; CI = 18.0 - ?; 0.05). The combination of small population size, high degree of genetic isolation, and intense daily interactions with dolphin-watching boats puts the Bocas del Toro dolphin to at high risk of extinction. Despite national guidelines to regulate the dolphin-watching industry in Bocas del Toro and ongoing educational programs for tour operators, only in 2012 seven animals have died due to boat collisions. Our results suggest that the conservation status of bottlenose dolphins in Bocas del Toro should be elevated to 'endangered' at the national level, as a precautionary measure while population and viability estimates are conducted.
Project description:Increasing evidence links prolonged freshwater exposure to adverse health conditions, immune deficiencies, and mortality in delphinids. Pensacola, Florida, experienced a record-breaking flood event in April 2014, after which, skin lesions evident of freshwater exposure were observed on common bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus). Here we assess the potential consequences of the flood on bottlenose dolphin health and mortality. Data from an ongoing study were used to evaluate the relationship between skin lesions (progression, prevalence, and extent) and the flood with respect to changing environmental conditions (salinity). Annual stranding records (2012-2016) from Alabama to the eastern Florida Panhandle were used as an indicator of dolphin health to test the hypothesis that the flood event resulted in increased annual mortality rates. Although salinities remained low for several months, results suggest that there was not the widespread skin lesion outbreak anticipated. Of the 333 unique individuals detected only 20% were seen with skin lesions. There was a significant increase in the proportion of dolphins seen post-flood with lesion extent above background levels (≥ 5%; p = 0.001), however, there were only 11 cases with lesion extent greater than 20%. Skin lesion prevalence increased overall following the flood (p < 0.001), but pairwise comparisons revealed a delayed response with significant increases not detected until the following fall (p = 0.01), several months after salinities returned to expected levels. Regression modeling revealed no significant effects of year, region, or year x region on mortality rates, except in Alabama, where increased mortality rates were likely due to residual impacts from the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill. This study takes advantage of a natural experiment, highlighting how little is understood about the conditions in which prolonged freshwater exposure leads to negative impacts on dolphin health.
Project description:This study investigates the bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops truncatus, Montagu 1821) habitat use in the Portofino marine protected area (NW Italy) and adjacent waters, a core area for the dolphins and a highly touristic area in the Mediterranean Sea. A permanent automated real-time passive acoustic monitoring system, able to detect and track dolphins continuously, was tested in the area within the activities of the Life+ Nature project ARION. The habits of bottlenose dolphins was investigated considering the resident rate inside the area, which quantifies the amount of time dolphins spent in these waters, by means of random forest regression. The dependency of dolphin resident rate was analyzed in relation to four explanatory variables: sea surface temperature, season, time of day, and proximity to the coast. Dolphins spent more time in the area during spring and when sea surface temperature ranged between 15-16°C. Summer resulted the season with lower dolphin residency with significant difference between working day and weekend, in the last the lowest residency was recorded. Main findings provide important information to properly manage the area in order to protect bottlenose dolphins.
Project description:Targeted approaches have been widely used to help explain physiological adaptations, but few studies have used non-targeted omics approaches to explore differences between diving marine mammals and terrestrial mammals. A rank comparison of undepleted serum proteins from common bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) and pooled normal human serum led to the discovery of 11 proteins that appeared exclusive to dolphin serum. Compared to the comprehensive human plasma proteome, 5 of 11 serum proteins had a differential rank greater than 200. One of these proteins, Vanin-1, was quantified using parallel reaction monitoring in dolphins under human care and free-ranging dolphins. Dolphin serum Vanin-1 ranged between 31-106??g/ml, which is 20-1000 times higher than concentrations reported for healthy humans. Serum Vanin-1 was also higher in dolphins under human care compared to free-ranging dolphins (64?±?16 vs. 47?±?12??g/ml P?<?0.05). Vanin-1 levels positively correlated with liver enzymes AST and ALT, and negatively correlated with white blood cell counts and fibrinogen in free-ranging dolphins. Major differences exist in the circulating blood proteome of the bottlenose dolphin compared to terrestrial mammals and exploration of these differences in bottlenose dolphins and other marine mammals may identify veiled protective strategies to counter physiological stress.
Project description:Few accounts describe predator-prey interactions between common bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus Montagu 1821) and marine catfish (Ariopsis felis Linnaeus 1766, Bagre marinus Mitchill 1815). Over the course of 50,167 sightings of bottlenose dolphin groups in Mississippi Sound and along the Florida coast of the Gulf of Mexico, severed catfish heads were found floating and exhibiting movements at the surface in close proximity to 13 dolphin groups that demonstrated feeding behavior. These observations prompted a multi-disciplinary approach to study the predator-prey relationship between bottlenose dolphins and marine catfish. A review was conducted of bottlenose dolphin visual survey data and dorsal fin photographs from sightings where severed catfish heads were observed. Recovered severed catfish heads were preserved and studied, whole marine catfish were collected and examined, and stranding network pathology reports were reviewed for references to injuries related to fish spines. Photographic identification analysis confirms eight dolphins associated with severed catfish heads were present in three such sightings across an approximately 350 km expanse of coast between the Mississippi Sound and Saint Joseph Bay, FL. An examination of the severed catfish heads indicated interaction with dolphins, and fresh-caught whole hardhead catfish (A. felis) were examined to estimate the presumed total length of the catfish before decapitation. Thirty-eight instances of significant trauma or death in dolphins attributed to ingesting whole marine catfish were documented in stranding records collected from the southeastern United States of America. Bottlenose dolphins typically adhere to a ram-feeding strategy for prey capture followed by whole prey ingestion; however, marine catfish skull morphology may pose a consumption hazard due to rigid spines that can puncture and migrate through soft tissue, prompting a prey handling technique for certain dolphins, facilitating consumption of the posterior portion of the fish without the head.