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Evaluation of annual survival and mortality rates and longevity of bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) at the United States Navy Marine Mammal Program from 2004 through 2013

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  • 1 National Marine Mammal Foundation, 2240 Shelter Island Dr, San Diego, CA 92106.
  • | 2 US Navy Marine Mammal Program, 53560 Hull St, San Diego, CA 92106.
  • | 3 National Marine Mammal Foundation, 2240 Shelter Island Dr, San Diego, CA 92106.
  • | 4 US Navy Marine Mammal Program, 53560 Hull St, San Diego, CA 92106.
  • | 5 National Marine Mammal Foundation, 2240 Shelter Island Dr, San Diego, CA 92106.

Abstract

Objective—To evaluate annual survival and mortality rates and the longevity of a managed population of bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus).

Design—Retrospective cohort study.

Animals—103 bottlenose dolphins at the US Navy Marine Mammal Program (MMP).

Procedures—Population age structures, annual survival and crude mortality rates, and median age at death for dolphins > 30 days old were determined from 2004 through 2013.

Results—During 2004 through 2013, the annual survival rates for MMP dolphins ranged from 0.98 to 1.0, and the annual crude mortality rates ranged from 0% to 5%, with a mean of 2.7%. The median age at death was 30.1 years from 2004 through 2008 and increased to 32 years from 2009 through 2013. The maximum age for a dolphin in the study was 52 years.

Conclusions and Clinical Relevance—Results indicated that the annual mortality rates were low and survival rates were high for dolphins in the MMP from 2004 through 2013 and that the median age at death for MMP dolphins during that time was over 10 years greater than that reported in free-ranging dolphins. These findings were likely attributable to the continually improving care and husbandry of managed dolphin populations.

Abstract

Objective—To evaluate annual survival and mortality rates and the longevity of a managed population of bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus).

Design—Retrospective cohort study.

Animals—103 bottlenose dolphins at the US Navy Marine Mammal Program (MMP).

Procedures—Population age structures, annual survival and crude mortality rates, and median age at death for dolphins > 30 days old were determined from 2004 through 2013.

Results—During 2004 through 2013, the annual survival rates for MMP dolphins ranged from 0.98 to 1.0, and the annual crude mortality rates ranged from 0% to 5%, with a mean of 2.7%. The median age at death was 30.1 years from 2004 through 2008 and increased to 32 years from 2009 through 2013. The maximum age for a dolphin in the study was 52 years.

Conclusions and Clinical Relevance—Results indicated that the annual mortality rates were low and survival rates were high for dolphins in the MMP from 2004 through 2013 and that the median age at death for MMP dolphins during that time was over 10 years greater than that reported in free-ranging dolphins. These findings were likely attributable to the continually improving care and husbandry of managed dolphin populations.

Contributor Notes

The US Navy Marine Mammal Program is accredited by the Association for Assessment and Accreditation of Laboratory Animal Care International and adheres to the national standards of the US Public Health Service Policy on the Humane Care and Use of Laboratory Animals and the Animal Welfare Act. As required by the US Department of Defense, the US Navy Marine Mammal Program's animal care and use program is routinely reviewed by an Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee and the Department of Defense Bureau of Medicine.

The authors thank Mike Rothe and Jeff Haun for supporting and implementing a health-care program for marine mammals and Dr. Laura Kienker and Dr. Linda Chrisey at the Office of Naval Research for research support.

Address correspondence to Dr. Venn-Watson (stephanie.venn-watston@nmmf.org).