Skin lesions on common bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) from three sites in the Northwest Atlantic, USA

Leslie Burdett Hart, Dave S. Rotstein, Randall S. Wells, Jason Allen, Aaron Barleycorn, Brian C. Balmer, Suzanne M. Lane, Todd Speakman, Eric S. Zolman, Megan Stolen, Wayne McFee, Tracey Goldstein, Teri K. Rowles, Lori H. Schwacke

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

33 Scopus citations


Skin disease occurs frequently in many cetacean species across the globe; methods to categorize lesions have relied on photo-identification (photo-id), stranding, and by-catch 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.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere33081
JournalPLoS One
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 12 2012

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)
  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Medicine(all)


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