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Diseases of Aquatic Organisms

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DAO 125:155-166 (2017)  -  DOI:

Health and Environmental Risk Assessment Project for bottlenose dolphins Tursiops truncatus from the southeastern USA. II. Environmental aspects

John S. Reif 1, Adam M. Schaefer2, Gregory D. Bossart3,4,*, Patricia A. Fair5,6 

1Department of Environmental and Radiological Health Sciences, College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, Colorado State University, Fort Collins, Colorado 80523, USA
2Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute at Florida Atlantic University, 5600 U.S. 1 North, Fort Pierce, Florida 34946, USA
3Georgia Aquarium, 225 Baker Street, NW, Atlanta, Georgia 30313, USA
4Division of Comparative Pathology, Miller School of Medicine, University of Miami, PO Box 016960 (R-46), Miami, Florida 33101, USA
5National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, National Ocean Service, Center for Coastal Environmental Health and Biomolecular Research, 219 Fort Johnson Rd, Charleston, South Carolina 29412, USA
6Department of Public Health Sciences, Medical University of South Carolina, Charleston, South Carolina 29425, USA
*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: Bottlenose dolphins Tursiops truncatus are the most common apex predators found in coastal and estuarine ecosystems along the southeastern coast of the USA, where these animals are exposed to multiple chemical pollutants and microbial agents. In this review, we summarize the results of investigations of environmental exposures evaluated in 360 free-ranging dolphins between 2003 and 2015. Bottlenose dolphins inhabiting the Indian River Lagoon, Florida (IRL, n = 246), and coastal waters of Charleston, South Carolina (CHS, n = 114), were captured, given comprehensive health examinations, and released as part of a multidisciplinary and multi-institutional study of individual and population health. High concentrations of persistent organic pollutants including legacy contaminants (DDT and other pesticides, polychlorinated biphenyl compounds) as well as ‘emerging’ contaminants (polybrominated diphenyl ethers, perfluorinated compounds) were detected in dolphins from CHS, with lower concentrations in the IRL. Conversely, the concentrations of mercury in the blood and skin of IRL dolphins were among the highest reported worldwide and approximately 5 times as high as those found in CHS dolphins. A high prevalence of resistance to antibiotics commonly used in humans and animals was detected in bacteria isolated from fecal, blowhole, and/or gastric samples at both sites, including methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) at CHS. Collectively, these studies illustrate the importance of long-term surveillance of estuarine populations of bottlenose dolphins and reaffirm their important role as sentinels for marine ecosystems and public health.

KEY WORDS: Cetacean · Bottlenose dolphins · Persistent organic pollutants · Mercury · Antibiotic resistance

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Cite this article as: Reif JS, Schaefer AM, Bossart GD, Fair PA (2017) Health and Environmental Risk Assessment Project for bottlenose dolphins Tursiops truncatus from the southeastern USA. II. Environmental aspects. Dis Aquat Org 125:155-166.

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