Assessing the effects of chemical spills and a changing environment on dolphins and whales in the southeast U.S.

The NMMF’s Dr. Lori Schwacke and Dr. Cynthia Smith are leading the Conservation Medicine Team to better understand the long-term and cumulative impacts of increasing interactions between humans and marine mammals, chemical spills in marine habitats, and a changing environment.

NMMF veterinarians and biologists work with collaborators across the east coast and in the northern Gulf of Mexico to study the long-term health trends and population trajectories of bottlenose dolphins and other cetaceans, to include:

  • Assisting NOAA to study the health of bottlenose dolphins exposed to persistent pollutants in the Turtle Brunswick River Estuary on the Georgia coast
  • Working with federal and state agencies and the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative (GoMRI) to establish how oil spills affect dolphins and whales in the northern Gulf of Mexico and to develop options for how to restore those injured populations
  • Helping the U.S. Navy characterize and monitor the dolphin and whale populations near the Naval Surface Warfare Center in Panama City, FL
  • Collaborating with federal and state agencies to characterize how changes in salinity affect bottlenose dolphin health and populations in Louisiana

Our Collaborative Efforts

The NMMF’s Conservation Medicine Team is leading the Consortium for Advanced Research on Marine Mammal Health Assessment (CARMMHA) to better understand how oil exposure affected dolphins and whales in the years following the Deepwater Horizon disaster. With funding from GoMRI, the NMMF is leading the internationally renowned collaborative team involving 10 partner organizations. The research consortium is combining several approaches to answer questions about the toxic effects of oil on cetaceans and to examine how dolphins and whales are recovering from the Deepwater Horizon spill. These approaches include bench-top laboratory research; diagnostic technique development with managed dolphins; field research with wild dolphins in Louisiana, Florida, and Alabama; and population modeling efforts.

Field team processing a remote biopsy sample. For each sample, numerous analyses are performed, including those for genetics, hormones, and pollutants.

The CARMMHA project extends the NMMF’s previous research with NOAA and partners to understand the adverse health effects of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill on wild dolphins in the northern Gulf of Mexico.

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