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ESR 33:291-303 (2017)  -  DOI:

Changes in immune functions in bottlenose dolphins in the northern Gulf of Mexico associated with the Deepwater Horizon oil spill

Sylvain De Guise1,2,*, Milton Levin1, Erika Gebhard1, Lindsay Jasperse1, Leslie Burdett Hart3,4, Cynthia R. Smith5, Stephanie Venn-Watson5, Forrest Townsend6, Randall Wells7, Brian Balmer4,7, Eric Zolman4, Teresa Rowles8, Lori Schwacke4

1University of Connecticut, Department of Pathobiology and Veterinary Science, Storrs, Connecticut 06269, USA
2Connecticut Sea Grant Program, Groton, Connecticut 06340, USA
3College of Charleston, Department of Health and Human Performance, Charleston, South Carolina 29424, USA
4National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Charleston, South Carolina 29412, USA
5National Marine Mammal Foundation, San Diego, California 92106, USA
6Bayside Hospital for Animals, Fort Walton Beach, Florida 32547, USA
7Chicago Zoological Society, c/o Mote Marine Laboratory, Sarasota, Florida 34236, USA
8Office of Protected Resources, National Marine Fisheries Service, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Silver Spring, Maryland 20910, USA
*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: Following the Deepwater Horizon (DWH) oil spill, the Natural Resource Damage Assessment conducted comprehensive health assessments on common bottlenose dolphins Tursiops truncatus in Barataria Bay (BB), Louisiana, in 2011, 2013 and 2014, as well as in Mississippi Sound (MS) in 2013, to assess potential health effects from exposure to oil compared to Sarasota Bay (SB), Florida dolphins not exposed to DWH oil. Immune functions demonstrated a consistent increase in T (BB 2011) and B (BB 2011 and 2013) lymphocyte proliferation compared to SB. Cytokine concentrations varied considerably in wild dolphin populations, and no significant differences were found; however, interesting trends were observed. The Th1 cytokines IL-2, IL-12, and IFNγ, and the Th2 cytokines IL-5, IL-10, and IL-13, were 2- to 50-fold lower, and IL-4 was 3-fold higher, in BB 2011 compared to SB. Overall, the changes observed were compatible with those documented in other species following exposure to oil or PAHs and were most pronounced in BB 2011, at the place and time most affected by oil. The changes in T cell functions, and the trend towards a cytokine balance tilted towards a Th2, rather than a Th1 response, are compatible with intra-cellular bacterial infections such as Brucella, which has been identified as one of the potential contributory factors to perinatal dolphin mortalities, and changes in B cell functions are compatible with an increase in extra-cellular bacterial infections and primary bacterial pneumonia.

KEY WORDS: Oil spill · Bottlenose dolphin · Lymphocyte proliferation · Cytokines · Immunology · Immunotoxicology · Health

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Cite this article as: De Guise S, Levin M, Gebhard E, Jasperse L and others (2017) Changes in immune functions in bottlenose dolphins in the northern Gulf of Mexico associated with the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Endang Species Res 33:291-303.

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