Bottlenose dolphin health assessments are a valuable tool to evaluate individual dolphin health and provide insight into stressors that are impacting the overall ecosystem. Blood sampling for health evaluation began in 1987 to develop medical histories for the known resident dolphins and provide baseline data for comparison to other free-ranging and managed dolphin populations.
Over the past 26 years since these initial blood data were collected, SDRP researchers, in collaboration with a team of biologists and veterinarians, have developed protocols for clinical evaluation of individual dolphins that minimizes dolphin handling time, optimizes safety and sample collection, and provides a quantitative methodology for assessing the overall health of a dolphin population. Many of the samples collected for this assessment require immediate processing in the field to ensure that subsequent laboratory analyses are not compromised.
To meet these needs, SDRP researchers began searching for a suitable platform that would serve as a “floating laboratory” to process samples efficiently in the field and provide the highest quality data for laboratory analyses. The ideal vessel would have a large, stable working platform with good airflow to permit centrifuging of blood tubes, pipetting of serum and plasma, and fine-scale processing of samples while in the field.
After an intensive search, a vessel was located that fit this description, a 24 ft. Sun Tracker pontoon boat, built one year after the first blood samples were collected in Sarasota, in 1988. The pontoon boat was extremely well cared for and had an open design, which allowed for ample table space to process samples. A new 90 hp Yamaha 4-stroke was added to the pontoon boat to provide enough power to carry its sampling crew and gear as well as keep up with the rest of the health assessment fleet.
The pontoon boat was named the R/V Challenger in thanks to the Community Foundation of Sarasota County’s Giving Challenge, which raised a large portion of the funding needed to purchase and outfit the vessel, and as a salute to the HMS Challenger expedition of 1872-76 which was a global scientific research cruise that made some of the first discoveries in the field of oceanography.
This article was published on page 48 in the January 2014 Nicks n Notches.