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Skin Lesions on Common Bottlenose Dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) from Three Sites in the Northwest Atlantic, USA

Author(s): Burdett Hart, L.; D.S. Rotstein; R.S. Wells; J. Allen; A. Barleycorn; B.C. Balmer; S.M. Lane; T. Speakman; E.S. Zolman; M. Stolen; W. McFee; T. Goldstein; T.K. Rowles; L.H. Schwacke

NCCOS Center: HML (

Publication Type: Journal Article

Journal Title: PLoS ONE

Date of Publication: 2012

Reference Information: 7(3): e33081 - 12 pages

Keywords: skin lesion; photo-identification; bottlenose dolphin; Tursiops truncatus; Sarasota Bay; Georgia; Charleston

Abstract: Skin disease occurs frequently in many cetacean species across the globe; methods to categorize lesions have relied on photo-identification (photo-id), stranding, and bycatch data. The current study used photo-id data from four sampling months during 2009 to estimate skin lesion prevalence and type occurring on bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) from three sites along the southeast United States coast [Sarasota Bay, FL (SSB); near Brunswick and Sapelo Island, GA (BSG); and near Charleston, SC (CHS)]. The prevalence of lesions was highest among BSG dolphins (P=0.587) and lowest in SSB (P=0.380), and the overall prevalence was significantly different among all sites (p<0.0167). Logistic regression modeling revealed a significant reduction in the odds of lesion occurrence for increasing water temperatures (OR=0.92; 95%CI:0.906-0.938) and a significantly increased odds of lesion occurrence for BSG dolphins (OR=1.39; 95%CI:1.203-1.614). Approximately one-third of the lesioned dolphins from each site presented with multiple types, and population differences in lesion type occurrence were observed (p<0.05). Lesions on stranded dolphins were sampled to determine the etiology of different lesion types, which included three visually distinct samples positive for herpesvirus. Although generally considered non-fatal, skin disease may be indicative of animal health or exposure to anthropogenic or environmental threats, and photo-id data provide an efficient and cost-effective approach to document the occurrence of skin lesions in free-ranging populations.