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Graduate Student to Research Historical Dolphin Health Indicators

College of Charleston Master’s student, Sarah Baxter, under the direction of a scientist from the National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science, Dr. Leslie Hart, was one of two students recently awarded the Master of Environmental Studies Graduate Assistantship for student research and travel. Sarah’s research will use historic photographic data to estimate the prevalence of skin lesions among bottlenose dolphins in coastal Georgia estuaries, and investigate climatic, spatial, and anthropogenic factors potentially associated with lesion occurrence.

Previous studies of bottlenose dolphins in waters surrounding Brunswick and Sapelo, Georgia have demonstrated local, large fluctuations in salinity regimes, unprecedented exposure to polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB) contaminants, and a higher prevalence of skin lesions compared to other stocks in the southeastern U.S.

Skin lesions on bottlenose dolphins are geographically widespread and highly prevalent; however, factors contributing to lesion occurrence and individual susceptibility are poorly understood. Sarah’s research will provide critical information to better identify exposures and localized environmental conditions that influence skin lesion development.

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