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Graduate Student to Research Historical Dolphin Health Indicators

Published on: 06/20/2012
Region(s) of Study: U.S. States and Territories / Georgia

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 GraduateAssistantship for student research and travel. Sarah’s research will use historic photographic datato estimate the prevalence of skin lesions among bottlenose dolphins in coastal Georgia estuaries, andinvestigate climatic, spatial, and anthropogenic factors potentially associated with lesion occurrence.

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

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

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