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Ultrasonographic assessment of the thyroid gland and adjacent anatomic structures in Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops aduncus)

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  • 1 Department of Health Technology and Informatics, Hong Kong Polytechnic University, Hung Hom, Kowloon, Hong Kong SAR, China.
  • | 2 Department of Health Technology and Informatics, Hong Kong Polytechnic University, Hung Hom, Kowloon, Hong Kong SAR, China.
  • | 3 Department of Health Technology and Informatics, Hong Kong Polytechnic University, Hung Hom, Kowloon, Hong Kong SAR, China.
  • | 4 Department of Zoological Operations and Education, Ocean Park Corp, Wong Chuk Hang Rd, Aberdeen, Hong Kong SAR, China.
  • | 5 Department of Health Technology and Informatics, Hong Kong Polytechnic University, Hung Hom, Kowloon, Hong Kong SAR, China.

Abstract

Objective—To evaluate the use of ultrasonography for thyroid gland assessment in healthy Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops aduncus), describe the ultrasonographic appearance of the thyroid gland and adjacent anatomic structures, and identify potential associations between variations in thyroid gland morphology and demographic features in this species.

Animals—18 captive Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphins.

Procedures—1,404 ultrasonographic examinations of the thyroid gland and adjacent anatomic structures (eg, cervical lymph nodes, musculature, and vasculature) were performed during the > 3-year study period. Shape, echogenicity, and homogeneity of thyroid glands were assessed, and glands were categorized into morphological configurations on the basis of results of 2-D and 3-D ultrasonographic evaluation. Associations between demographic factors and thyroid gland morphology were assessed.

Results—Thyroid lobes appeared elliptical or fusiform in the transverse scan plane and round to oval in longitudinal scan planes; morphologically, glands comprised 2 lobes joined by an isthmus or a roughly diamond-shaped structure located on the ventral surface of the trachea. Major blood vessels and cervical lymph nodes were identified. Thyroid parenchyma was typically uniform and homogeneous, with echogenic reticulations and well-defined borders. Thyroid glands were hypoechoic or isoechoic relative to the sternocephalicus muscle; echogenicity was greater in adolescents than in adults. Thyroid gland volume differed between sexes, between sexually mature and immature dolphins, and among age groups and was positively correlated with body length and weight.

Conclusions and Clinical Relevance—Ultrasonography provided a reliable and repeatable method for evaluation of thyroid glands and adjacent anatomic structures in live dolphins.

Abstract

Objective—To evaluate the use of ultrasonography for thyroid gland assessment in healthy Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops aduncus), describe the ultrasonographic appearance of the thyroid gland and adjacent anatomic structures, and identify potential associations between variations in thyroid gland morphology and demographic features in this species.

Animals—18 captive Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphins.

Procedures—1,404 ultrasonographic examinations of the thyroid gland and adjacent anatomic structures (eg, cervical lymph nodes, musculature, and vasculature) were performed during the > 3-year study period. Shape, echogenicity, and homogeneity of thyroid glands were assessed, and glands were categorized into morphological configurations on the basis of results of 2-D and 3-D ultrasonographic evaluation. Associations between demographic factors and thyroid gland morphology were assessed.

Results—Thyroid lobes appeared elliptical or fusiform in the transverse scan plane and round to oval in longitudinal scan planes; morphologically, glands comprised 2 lobes joined by an isthmus or a roughly diamond-shaped structure located on the ventral surface of the trachea. Major blood vessels and cervical lymph nodes were identified. Thyroid parenchyma was typically uniform and homogeneous, with echogenic reticulations and well-defined borders. Thyroid glands were hypoechoic or isoechoic relative to the sternocephalicus muscle; echogenicity was greater in adolescents than in adults. Thyroid gland volume differed between sexes, between sexually mature and immature dolphins, and among age groups and was positively correlated with body length and weight.

Conclusions and Clinical Relevance—Ultrasonography provided a reliable and repeatable method for evaluation of thyroid glands and adjacent anatomic structures in live dolphins.

Contributor Notes

Supported by The Hong Kong Polytechnic University Research Studentship (G5556 RGGH) and Ocean Park Corp.

The authors thank Winson Chan, Ben Daly, Dr. Beate Litz, and Dr. Stephanie Venn-Watson for assistance with statistical analysis and Emily Chan, Bernice Lee, Henry Tsui, and Alex Ng for assistance with manuscript preparation.

Address correspondence to Dr. Kot (briankot@yahoo.co.uk).