NOAA - Studying the health of dolphins after pollution

Assessments provide important data about the effects of chemical pollution on marine mammals.

You can't bring a wild dolphin to the veterinarian for a checkup. So when chemical pollution impacts dolphins, NOAA sometimes brings veterinarians to the dolphins.

After an oil spill or release of industrial chemicals, it is important to determine if the health of wild dolphins has been impacted. In some cases, a team of scientists and veterinarians may temporarily capture wild dolphins to assess their health. These capture-release health assessments are an important tool for collecting in-depth data about the potential harmful impacts of pollution.

Dolphins are protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act and are wild animals that can weigh several hundred pounds. We need a team of highly trained and experienced marine scientists and veterinarians to ensure the safety of the dolphins and the scientists. The team will track a group of dolphins to verify there are no young calves present and will wait until the target dolphins are in an area that is optimal for setting a net (e.g., shallow water with slow/no currents, with a relatively soft bottom like sand). Throughout the entire process of catching and holding the dolphins, veterinarians carefully monitor their health and behavior to ensure they are doing well and remain stable. This work is always conducted by trained professionals under a research permit issued by NOAA Fisheries.

The video below highlights some of the methods experts use to study the health of wild dolphins and what we can learn from them. Many of these methods are similar to what is used to examine the health of people and their pets.

Read more.