As described in the article by Nick Kellar, important information on reproductive status, stress, environmental contaminants, skin lesions, sex, and genetics can be derived from remote collection of a tiny sample of skin and blubber. Biopsy dart sampling is a well-established technique that has been used successfully tens of thousands of times around the world with cetaceans, providing tissue samples without needing to physically handle or restrain an animal. There is a need to increase capacity for using this technique in the southeastern United States and other areas for management purposes. Thanks to a grant from Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute/FAU, the Sarasota Dolphin Research Program has been able to conduct a second year of biopsy dart sampling training for qualified researchers.
The training begins in Sarasota Bay, where a team of trainees is taught the basic skills needed to safely dart a dolphin, collect associated data, and process tissue samples for analysis, as well as get a chance to watch an experienced team collect samples. After trainees demonstrate the ability to safely, accurately, and reliably hit a target as well as show basic understanding of dolphin behavior, they are allowed to take samples under the watchful eyes of the trainers. When possible, a follow-up week of training is performed in the researchers’ own study areas. As they demonstrate the ability to safely collect samples, the trainees are allowed to take on more responsibility and try to lead the team.
During 2016, we worked with two new trainees and also continued work with three participants from the previous year. In addition to the initial training in Sarasota, we spent two separate weeks helping acquire samples from different locations in the Indian River Lagoon (IRL). These samples are of particular importance as they will help us understand how pollution in the IRL is affecting the wildlife in the area, as well as contribute to the basic understanding of the population structure in the area. To date, biopsy dart training has resulted in building capacity and acquiring samples in Sarasota Bay, the IRL, Galveston Bay, Pensacola Bay, the coast of the Florida panhandle, and Puerto Rico. These samples and the ability to collect more will greatly increase our ability to understand the needs of dolphins in the southeastern United States and elsewhere.
This article appeared on page 30 of the 2017 SDRP Annual Report, Nicks n Notches.