Field Sampling Projects

NOAA Permit 932-1905-MA-009526
NOAA Permit 932-1905-MA-009526

We are excited to expand our understanding of how DWH oil-affected animals outside of bays, sounds, and estuaries by targeting dolphins in the Northern Coastal Stock near Dauphin Island, AL.

Co-PIs: Teri Rowles (NOAA/NMFS Office of Protected Resources), Brian Balmer (NMMF), Randy Wells (Chicago Zoological Society);

Key Collaborators: Eric Zolman (NMMF), Forrest Townsend (Auburn, Bayside Veterinary Clinic), Keith Mullin, Patricia Rosel (NOAA/NMFS Southeast Fisheries Science Center), Mandy Tumlin (LDWF)

The CARMMHA Field Team will perform surveys and health assessments in three locations: Sarasota Bay, FL; Barataria Bay, LA; and Dauphin Island, AL. Fieldwork on live marine mammals since the DWH oil spill has focused mainly on comparisons between Sarasota dolphins (used as a reference) and Barataria Bay/Mississippi Sound dolphins.

We have 3 major objectives with the CARMMHA fieldwork:

  1. Apply the new veterinary techniques from the cardiac project to wild animals, and the new cardiac and immune laboratory assays to the samples collected from wild animals.
  2. Compare health parameters between BB and SB in 2018, as well as over time since the DWH spill.
  3. Assess health from animals in the Northern Coastal Stock range, including conducting satellite tagging and genetics sampling to determine from which stock each capture/release animal comes.

Our live animal health assessments require large teams of animal handlers, veterinarians, biologists, and field support crew to make sure that all captures and releases proceed safely for the researchers and animals involved. We work as efficiently as possible to collect as much health information as possible in the shortest amount of time and with the least amount of stress to the animal.

In addition to the health assessments, we will be conducting satellite tagging, remote biopsy collection, and prey sample collection trawls. Dolphins seen near Dauphin Island could belong to one of three stocks: the Mobile Bay stock, the Mississippi Sound stock, and the Northern Coastal stock (our target). However, it’s impossible to know which stock these animals belong to from just looking at them while they’re in hand. To identify their stock, we will 1) tag them with a satellite tag to track their movements over several months and 2) analyze samples for genetic markers unique to each stock. For the dietary and trophic studies, we also want to collect and analyze the stable isotopes of potential dolphin prey (fish and crustaceans) in Barataria Bay and near Dauphin Island.

Progress Summary


September 5th, 2019 – CARMMHA fieldwork concluded in September 2018.  Spatial analyses, including calculation of utilization distributions and hot spots for the Barataria Bay and Dauphin Island tagged dolphins, are complete. Integration of these data with the genetics results and other projects such as the dietary/trophic assessment are ongoing. Genetic analysis of the data from the CARMMHA fieldwork and previous sampling efforts is ongoing. All sequencing results have been received and bioinformatic analyses are well underway.