MEPS prepress abstract  -  DOI:

Detecting respiratory bacterial communities of wild dolphins – implications for animal health

Tiffanie M. Nelson*, Megan M. Wallen, Mike Bunce, Charlotte L. Oskam, Nicole. Lima, Leigh Clayton, Janet Mann


ABSTRACT: Infectious diseases contribute to the vulnerable status of marine mammals, including respiratory illnesses. This study aimed to capture exhaled breath condensate or blow for microbial identification from wild Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphins Tursiops aduncus. Individual dolphins were sampled by holding a funnel connected to a 50 ml centrifuge tube over the blowhole of the animal near shore in Shark Bay (SB), Western Australia. Four individuals were sampled on two occasions along with seawater samples. Comparative blow and pool water samples were collected from four individual common bottlenose dolphins Tursiops truncatus housed in the National Aquarium, Baltimore, Maryland. Bacteria were identified using the V4 region of the 16S rRNA gene from extracted DNA. We identified bacteria independent of seawater in SB dolphins, which included the classes Alphaproteobacteria (26.1%) and Gammaproteobacteria (25.8%); the phyla Bacteroidetes (15.6%) and Fusobacteria (7.2%); and the genera Pseudomonas (11.5%), Pedomicrobium (4.5%), Streptobacillus (3.7%), Phenylobacterium (2.2%) and Sphingomonas (2.1%). There were broad similarities in phyla between SB and NA dolphins yet there were differences between lower taxonomic groups. A number of operational taxonomic units (OTUs) were shared between dolphin individuals, which may be a result of their genetic lineage (siblings or parentage), shared living and social interactions. A number of genera were observed in SB dolphins which have species known to be infectious in marine mammals such as Pseudomonas, Mycoplasma and Streptococcus. This study successfully characterised bacteria from DNA captured in blow from wild dolphins. The ability to capture these communities from individuals in the wild provides a novel health indicator.