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Study reveals link between dolphin skin disease and climatic factors

Skin lesions on coastal dolphins are associated with water that’s colder and has lower salinity, say researchers at the National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science. They analyzed photographs collected during routine monitoring studies of dolphins in estuaries and coastal waters of South Carolina, Georgia and Florida and found that in all three sites, the prevalence of skin lesions increased in winter and early spring months when water temperatures are coldest.

A higher prevalence of skin disease was also observed in the northern sites (Georgia and South Carolina) as compared to the most southern study area in Sarasota Bay, Florida.

Skin disease was also found to be more prevalent for dolphins from lower salinity waters within the Georgia study area. The findings from this study suggest that skin disease in coastal marine mammals can vary by population and may be influenced by seasonal or environmental fluctuations.

This report will benefit the community of marine mammal researchers, veterinarians, and epidemiologists who are interested in monitoring trends in disease and pathogen distribution as they relate to our changing climate.

Hart LB, Rotstein DS, Wells RS, Allen J, Barleycorn A, Balmer BC, Lane SM, Speakman T, Zolman ES, Stolen M, McFee W, Goldstein T, Rowles TK, Schwacke LH (2012) Skin lesions on common bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) from three sites in the northwest Atlantic, USA. PLoS One. 7(3): e33081. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0033081.

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