The Barataria Bay fieldwork went smoothly today for the CARMMHA team.

We captured, assessed, and released four animals just off of Grand Isle, LA. We had a little bit of engine trouble, which isn’t surprising with a fleet of 8 vessels on the water each day, so we had to rearrange some of the crews on different vessels. But being flexible within your plans is key to a successful field effort!

CARMMHA’s sampling vessel, the Lady Camille.

Today, we’ll tell you about what we do with the analytical samples to get them ready for our laboratory partners. Once the veterinarians take the samples from animals in the water, runners carry the samples to our processing team on Lady Camille. The processing team then splits the blood, skin, blubber, and other samples into smaller aliquots, so that each of our laboratories can receive enough to run their analyses.

One of the processors is from the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), and in addition to helping with the biopsy and blood samples, they prepare printed labels with barcodes, so that we can track the >120 blood tubes. This sampling inventory label system is very similar to what you would see with barcodes at your local supermarket. For the blood samples, we have centrifuges on-board so that the team can prepare plasma and serum samples immediately after the blood is collected. Today, when we processed the samples for our four animals, we prepared more than 500 blood and tissue subsample tubes in just over two hours!

CARMMHA sample processing team organizing and labeling wild dolphin blowhole samples.

As soon as we get back to the dock each day, we move the subsample tubes either into liquid nitrogen for storage, or we immediately package them up and send them out for overnight delivery to our partner laboratories. For example, for the immune project, each day our team members at the University of Connecticut receive whole blood so that they can run immunological tests on samples that have never been frozen! Because we are sampling in a remote location, getting the samples shipped each day requires driving one and a half hours to Houma, the nearest delivery pick up location. But these samples and the analyses that will be run on them are at the heart of what we need to answer our research questions.

CARMMHA sample technician recording, labeling, and processing blood samples.

Tomorrow, we’ll talk about the satellite tags we use to track these animals’ movements after we release them.

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Dolphins captured and released today

Today we worked with four animals: two adult females and two adult males, we captured and handled all four at the same time, a real achievement for the entire team. Fans of the CARMMHA blog will be excited to hear that one of the females was YV7, the animal that we disentangled from fishing line during last year’s health assessments (link), and she is in her first trimester of pregnancy! [The wound from the entanglement looked healthy, but she is still suffering from a variety of ailments, including lung disease. The other female is a new animal that we have not assessed before; she also showed signs of illness. The two males appeared reasonably healthy, and they were both new animals to our assessment database.

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How do dolphins poop and burp?

The same way as you! When they poop, it’s very small and liquid. It’s kind of like a little stream. They burp through their mouth, not through their blowhole.

Do dolphins have best friends?

Yes, when male dolphins become adults they will oftentimes pair up w/ another male of similar age. These relationships are sometimes referred to as alliances, and will typically last for the lifetime of one or the other dolphin.  This bond aids in finding mates, catching prey, and avoiding predators. Female dolphins may be found with other females and their calves of similar ages or in groups that consist of other relatives such as a grandmother, mother, and calf.  The strongest bonds in dolphins are those between a mother and her calf, followed by male-male alliances.

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About this field update

The CARMMHA Barataria Bay Health Assessment wrapped up last month! The team spent two weeks on Grand Isle, LA and had a very successful fieldwork effort. During the trip, CARMMHA Research Coordinator Ryan Takeshita (with plenty of help from others on the team!) kept a field journal to share here on the CARMMHA website. Over the next two weeks, we’ll post daily blog entries from that field journal. In some of the entries, we have a Question and Answer section with marine mammal veterinarians responding to questions from Evie, a four and half-year-old scientist in training from Ellicott City, MD. We hope you enjoy our field updates!