Dolphins at the Doctors



Dolphins have a lot in common with humans. They breathe air, give birth to live young, and they also live in social groups. And some dolphins share a rather unique experience with humans; they go to the doctor.

Well, actually, the doctors make a house call to them. When marine scientists come across a group of sick or dead dolphins, they need to find out why, so they can better protect them.

But giving a dolphin a checkup in the wild isn't easy. It requires a large team of trained vets and scientists. They use specially designed nets and equipment in order to safely capture and gently restrain these large animals. And believe it or not, their checkups are a lot like ours.

Terri Rowles - Senior Veterinarian at NOAA:
"We do physical exams on them, very similar to what you do when you go to the doctor: eye exams, taking blood, we listen to their chest to hear their heart and their lungs. So these individual animals have a complete physical exams including hearing tests."

After their checkup, some dolphins are fitted with a temporary tracking device so that scientists can monitor where they are swimming and feeding. These data may shed light on what is making the dolphins sick and expose contaminants moving through the ecosystem. This information has far-reaching implications for dolphins and humans.

Lori Schwacke - Principal Scientist, Hollings Marine Laboratory:
"Dolphins are top level predators in many estuaries and coastal waters along the US coast. They're there year round; they're in the water 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. So if there's chemical contaminants in the waters or in the fish, dolphins are likely to be exposed to them. Dolphins are mammals, they're physiologically similar to humans, so the effects that we see in dolphins we may also potentially see in humans."

So, now we understand the connection between the health of wild dolphins and humans. Their visit to the doctor can reveal important information for when we visit the ocean for food and recreation. Healthy dolphins indicate a healthy marine environment, which is good news for humans. By sharing the sea, our lives will always be linked.