Engineers have built a new device to collect dolphin breath for analysis.
In addition to making it easier to check the marine animals’ health, scientists could use this method to study dolphin biology and medicine, as well as for wildlife conservation.
Professor Cristina Davis and colleagues in the department of mechanical and aerospace engineering at the University of California, Davis, worked with colleagues to develop the device and test it on both wild bottlenose dolphins and a population under human care.
Invasive techniques such as skin biopsies and blood sampling are difficult to perform on wild, free-ranging dolphins.
The UC Davis team has worked on techniques for analyzing exhaled human breath, which contains compounds called metabolites that can hint at a person’s diet, activity level, environmental exposures, or disease state.
The researchers wanted to develop a way to capture dolphin breath so they could gather this kind of information about marine mammals.
Dolphins are “explosive breathers,” which means they can exchange up to 90 percent of their lung capacity in less than a second. Just one exhalation can give a comprehensive picture of the animal’s physiology.
The researchers designed an insulated tube that traps breath exhaled from a dolphin’s blowhole and freezes it. They analyzed samples to create profiles of the mix of metabolites in breath, established baseline profiles of healthy animals, and were able to identify changes in the breath of animals affected by disease or other factors.
The researchers conclude that breath analysis could be used to diagnose and monitor problems in marine mammals—and, by extension, in ocean health as well.
The team worked with researchers at the National Marine Mammal Foundation in San Diego and the Chicago Zoological Society’s Mote Marine Laboratory in Sarasota, Florida.
The Office of Naval Research, The Hartwell Foundation, and the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences funded the research, which appears in Analytical Chemistry.
Source: UC Davis