Physiological stress and health of dolphins in the Texas coastal bend




Guinn, Makayla A.
Orbach, Dara N.


Journal Title

Journal ISSN

Volume Title




Common bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) are an important bioindicator species of ecosystem welfare and sustainability and generate critical economic capital annually through ecotourism in the Texas Coastal Bend (TCB). The TCB stock of dolphins has specifically been identified as imperiled by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration due to the number of anthropogenic and natural disturbances they encounter, and proactive monitoring of TCB dolphins is a current management priority. Recent economic growth has supported large-scale coastal infrastructure initiatives, including the imminent construction of desalination plants within the TCB. Because common bottlenose dolphins are highly vulnerable to salinity changes, which can lead to infectious disease and mortality, it is critical to determine baseline health and stress levels before the construction of desalination plants in order to monitor physiological changes post- construction and to inform policymakers of environmental impact. In this study, we will assess physiological stress and health conditions in TCB bottlenose dolphins using a novel approach system. A drone will be flown over dolphins to measure the prevalence and severity of skin lesions, which are an indicator of compromised epidermal integrity, for the first time from an aerial perspective. Blubber samples will be collected from the same dolphins using a remote biopsy technique to measure stress hormone levels; this study will be the first to validate aldosterone in the blubber of bottlenose dolphins. The baseline health and stress data collected will be used to directly measure bottlenose dolphin susceptibility to environmental disturbances and will assist in the preservation of marine life in the TCB.



Crossbow, hypersalinity, marine mammal, steroid hormone, UAV



Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International