DAO 119:1-16 (2016)  -  DOI: https://doi.org/10.3354/dao02969

Fetal distress and in utero pneumonia in perinatal dolphins during the Northern Gulf of Mexico unusual mortality event

Kathleen M. Colegrove1,*, Stephanie Venn-Watson2, Jenny Litz3, Michael J. Kinsel2, Karen A. Terio2, Erin Fougeres4, Ruth Ewing3, D. Ann Pabst5, William A. McLellan5, Stephen Raverty6, Jeremiah Saliki7, Spencer Fire8,17, Gina Rappucci9, Sabrina Bowen-Stevens9, Lauren Noble10, Alex Costidis5, Michelle Barbieri11,18, Cara Field12,18, Suzanne Smith12, Ruth H. Carmichael13, Connie Chevis14, Wendy Hatchett14, Delphine Shannon14, Mandy Tumlin15, Gretchen Lovewell16, Wayne McFee8, Teresa K. Rowles11

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ABSTRACT: An unusual mortality event (UME) involving primarily common bottlenose dolphins Tursiops truncatus of all size classes stranding along coastal Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama, USA, started in early 2010 and continued into 2014. During this northern Gulf of Mexico UME, a distinct cluster of perinatal dolphins (total body length <115 cm) stranded in Mississippi and Alabama during 2011. The proportion of annual dolphin strandings that were perinates between 2009 and 2013 were compared to baseline strandings (2000-2005). A case-reference study was conducted to compare demographics, histologic lesions, and Brucella sp. infection prevalence in 69 UME perinatal dolphins to findings from 26 reference perinates stranded in South Carolina and Florida outside of the UME area. Compared to reference perinates, UME perinates were more likely to have died in utero or very soon after birth (presence of atelectasis in 88 vs. 15%, p < 0.0001), have fetal distress (87 vs. 27%, p < 0.0001), and have pneumonia not associated with lungworm infection (65 vs. 19%, p = 0.0001). The percentage of perinates with Brucella sp. infections identified via lung PCR was higher among UME perinates stranding in Mississippi and Alabama compared to reference perinates (61 vs. 24%, p = 0.01), and multiple different Brucella omp genetic sequences were identified in UME perinates. These results support that from 2011 to 2013, during the northern Gulf of Mexico UME, bottlenose dolphins were particularly susceptible to late-term pregnancy failures and development of in utero infections including brucellosis.


KEY WORDS: Bottlenose dolphin · Brucella · Fetal distress · Fetal loss · Oil spill · Pneumonia · Tursiops truncatus · Unusual mortality event


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Cite this article as: Colegrove KM, Venn-Watson S, Litz J, Kinsel MJ and others (2016) Fetal distress and in utero pneumonia in perinatal dolphins during the Northern Gulf of Mexico unusual mortality event. Dis Aquat Org 119:1-16. https://doi.org/10.3354/dao02969

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