Much information has been collected on health problems of the bottlenose dolphin. Nevertheless, cetacean medicine is a relatively new science. 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. For example, the measurement of total antibody levels has been suggested as markers of immune health and as a tool for triage during strandings and rehabilitation. Additionally, the measurement of total antibody concentrations in the serum of bottlenose dolphins would allow veterinarians to identify weaker humoral immune function in dolphins in rehabilitation centers and treat those individuals accordingly. However, normal ranges of total antibody concentrations, as present in healthy, wild bottlenose dolphins, have not yet been determined.
Over the past three years, a set of serum samples has been collected from the free-ranging Sarasota dolphin community and additional serum samples have been collected from two captive populations. As serum samples become available, the total antibody concentration is measured in each sample, using a newly developed ELISA assay for the measurement of total antibody concentration in dolphin serum. Using these data, the required amount of total serum antibodies has been established for each age category of bottlenose dolphins. Our findings also showed that distinct normal reference intervals need to be established for captive and free-ranging bottlenose dolphins.