The CARMMHA team will undertake three types of projects to evaluate the mechanisms of Deepwater Horizon (DWH) oil toxicity to cetaceans and update the projections of stock recoveries: Thematic projects, Field projects, and an Integrative Modeling project.
We designed the Thematic projects to fill information gaps stemming from previous research on the Barataria Bay and Mississippi Sound common bottlenose dolphin (CBND) stocks in the five years after the DWH oil spill. During those studies, researchers collected preliminary data that suggested these animals were suffering from cardiac and immune abnormalities, as well as poor body condition. Interestingly, scientists studying DWH oil’s impacts on other species (e.g., fish and birds) documented similar adverse health effects in both laboratory and field studies.
Therefore, the CARMMHA Thematic projects will first develop the laboratory assays and veterinary methods to study wild dolphins’ hearts, immune systems, and diet quality. Then, our veterinary team will use the cardiac techniques during the field health assessments and collect samples for the laboratory assays from the wild animals. The laboratory teams will then use the new cardiac, immune, and diet quality laboratory techniques to study both archived and new samples from the field.
The Field projects will include health assessments in Sarasota Bay, FL (as an unoiled reference site); Barataria Bay, LA; and Dauphin Island, AL. Wild CBNDs will be captured and released according to NOAA permitting regulations. With the animals in hand, our team of experienced veterinarians and animal handlers will not only collect data for the Thematic projects but conduct a full health assessment to best understand each animal’s overall health.
Each Thematic project will publish the results from their research, but we designed the Integrative Modeling Project to synthesize all of the Thematic project’s findings together with the best available research available from the greater scientific community. Our modeling team will work with a panel of marine mammal experts to identify the most appropriate ways to integrate the various physiological and demographic data sets. Then the team will build population models that demonstrate how the constellation of adverse effects of DWH oil has changed the population trajectories for various GoM dolphin and whale stocks.