Much information has been collected on health problems of the bottlenose dolphin. Nevertheless, cetacean medicine is a relatively new science. Among other disciplines, the study of the cetacean immune system and the development of sero-diagnostic tests are lagging behind those animals more commonly assessed in traditional veterinary medicine. Of the different sero-diagnostic tests, the indirect ELISA (Enzyme-Linked Immuno-Sorbent Assay) has surfaced as a test with extremely broad application for managing health problems of both wild and captive animals. The indirect ELISA is of value in health assessment programs, retrospective disease surveys using archived serum samples, prospective monitoring of disease agents of concern, and measurement of total antibody levels. Total antibody levels have been suggested as markers of immune health and as a tool for triage during strandings and rehabilitation. However, normal ranges of total antibody levels, as present in healthy, wild bottlenose dolphins, have not yet been determined.
We have recently made use of an on-going vaccination program in captive bottlenose dolphins to develop and validate such an indirect ELISA for bottlenose dolphins. The first application of this assay will be to establish normal ranges of total antibody levels of bottlenose dolphins. Over the past year, a set of serum samples has been collected from the Sarasota dolphin community, and additional serum samples will be collected during the course of this year. Once collected, this second set of sera will complete the necessary bank for establishing normal reference values, using the newly developed ELISA assay.