FY 2010 expenditures: $1,387,920
FY 2011 budget: $1,415,092
FY 2012 budget: $1,745,237
Perhaps the most beloved of all marine species, dolphins have a relatively long lifespan and a top spot in the food chain, which make them ideal subjects for study of human inputs to coastal ecosystems. Humans and dolphins share food sources and are exposed to many of the same environmental elements and diseases, and so this research can have implications for our well-being.
As enacted by the Legislature of the State of Florida, funds from the Protect Wild Dolphins specialty license plate can be used to:
Protect Wild Dolphins license plate revenue enables the conservation activities of the FAU-Harbor Branch Marine Mammal Research and Conservation Program (MMRC).
- collect, analyze, and archive scientific data regarding the wild dolphin population in Florida waters
- provide care and assistance to stranded wild dolphins
- distribute information to the scientific community, federal, state and local government agencies, educational institutions and the public for the purpose of protecting and preserving wild dolphins
- individually identify wild dolphins through a photographic identification program
- advance the research technology associated with tracking and categorizing wild dolphins.
The Health and Environmental Risk Assessment (HERA) program investigates Atlantic bottlenose dolphin health with a focus on using dolphins as a sentinel species for oceans and human health. From 2003-2011, the HERA program has examined and released more than 269 dolphins inhabiting Florida’s Indian River Lagoon (IRL) and the Charleston (South Carolina) Harbor, yielding more than 50 published research papers. FAU-Harbor Branch researchers including Steve McCulloch, Dr. Juli Goldstein and Adam Schaefer collaborate with HERA project investigators Dr. Gregory Bossart (Georgia Aquarium), Dr. John Reif (Colorado State University) and Dr. Patricia Fair (NOAA Center for Coastal Environmental Health and Biomolecular Research).
FY 2012 funding: $461,997
Epidemiology & Population Health
This program analyzes HERA data to investigate the health effects of exposure to contaminants and infectious agents within the IRL. Much of the current work is focused on mercury, a principal pollutant found in IRL dolphins, including bioaccumulation, trophic level transfer and health effects. Integration of data onFlorida mercury concentrations between humans and fish species is a next step toward characterizing the link between oceans and human health. FAU-Harbor Branch epidemiologist Adam Schaefer leads this work.
FY 2012 funding: $132,121
As a member of the NOAA Southeast Region Marine Mammal Stranding Network, MMRC maintains 24/7 response readiness for dolphin rescue incidents such as beachings and fishing gear entanglements. Incident response includes veterinary assessment to determine if the animal can be released, requires treatment or must be euthanized. The MMRC necropsy laboratory is used to perform pathological examinations to better understand illness. On January 1, 2011, for the first time since being severely damaged by hurricanes in 2004, the FAU-Harbor Branch Marine Mammal Critical Care Center became available to accept marine mammals in need of rehabilitative care. FAU-Harbor Branch researchers include Steve McCulloch and Dr. Juli Goldstein.
FY 2012 funding: $269,004
Population Biology & Behavioral Ecology
This program studies the behavior, ecology and dynamics of dolphins in the context of marine ecosystem function and change. Underpinning much of the work is 15 years of continuous monitoring of dolphin populations in the IRL and coastal waters using photo identification, tissue analysis, behavioral observation and environmental sampling. Program expansion plans include explorations of population structure, immunogenetics, life history and social organization, as well as the start of a five-year collaboration with Mote Marine Laboratory’s Sarasota Dolphin Program to compare IRL and Sarasota Bay dolphin populations. FAU-Harbor Branch researchers include Dr. Greg O’Corry-Crowe and Marilyn Mazzoil.
Methods for the analysis and cultivation of Lacazia loboi from Indian River Lagoon Bottlenose Dolphins
Principal investigator: Adam Schaefer
Co-principal investigators: Peter McCarthy, Ph.D., and Esther Guzmán, Ph.D.
Lobomycosis is a fungal disease of the skin of humans and dolphins caused by the yeast-like organism Lacazia loboi. It tends to occur in humans in South and Central America, particularly in tropical and sub-tropical rural areas, and in approximately 10% of bottlenose dolphins in the IRL. Attempts to grow L. loboi in the laboratory using standard approaches have been uniformly unsuccessful, which impairs the ability to study, diagnose and develop treatments for the disease. This project will investigate a new approach to culture L. loboi involving artificial 3-D matrices and infected dolphin lesions collected during HERA. The results will aid in diagnosis and the development of treatments for L. loboi internationally. It will also allow researchers to identify environmental sources of the pathogen and substantially improve understanding of the epidemiology of lobomycosis in both humans and wildlife.
FY 2012 funding: $59,059; FY 2013 funding: $59,059
Investigation of CyanoHABs in the Indian River Lagoon Estuary
Principal investigator: Amy Wright, Ph.D.
Co-principal investigators: Dennis Hanisak, Ph.D., and Brian Lapointe, Ph.D.
Although perhaps not as well studied in the past as other types of harmful algal blooms (HAB), blooms of filamentous cyanobacteria are an emerging threat. Cyanobateria are prolific producers of toxic, tumor-promoting, immune-suppressing and skin-irritating compounds. The long- and short-term effects on habitat, organismal and human health caused by an increase in both the number and extent of blooms of cyanobacteria have not been evaluated for the IRL. This work will evaluate this emerging HAB threat and contribute to the Indian River Lagoon Observatory, a new, long-term, ecosystem-based program designed to address emerging issues of environmental health in the IRL.
FY 2012 funding: $50,000
A Collaborative Study of Bacterial Contamination of the Indian River Lagoon
Principal investigator: Peter McCarthy, Ph.D.
Co-principal investigators: Adam Schaefer
This two-year project is designed to study two distinct microbial populations in the IRL: indicator species common to contaminated waters, such as fecal coliforms, and antibiotic-resistant bacteria associated with marine mammals. The first year will be used to develop assessment methods and to initiate studies on the presence of indicator species at established long-term study sites. Year one also will include epidemiological research of antibiotic resistance in marine mammals and study of these pathogens in water and sediment samples collected from the 20 long-term study sites in the Central IRL. The second year will include continued data collection and correlation of findings with those of other IRL researchers to build on existing knowledge of the IRL and coastal waters, and to develop new collaborations and research programs. The work is intended to help reveal sources of IRL contamination and antibiotic-resistant bacteria, thus empowering efforts to minimize pollution and safeguard human health.
FY 2012 funding: $40,000; FY 2013 funding: $40,000; also supported by the Save Our Seas specialty license plate