Featured Image Credit: Craig T. Kojima
Committed to vital marine mammal conservation and education, Dolphin Quest collaborates with scientists on University-level studies by sharing their locations and animals to gather data that is impossible or nearly impossible to collect in the wild. They recently ran a “Meet The Researcher” segment highlighting the groundbreaking lung studies that Dr. Andreas Fahlman has been conducting at Dolphin Quest Bermuda, Dolphin Quest Oahu, The Mirage and in the wild.
As the Research Director for the Oceanographic Foundation, Dr. Fahlman is a published marine mammal biologist and a dolphin lung expert. He is comparing healthy baseline data gathered from dolphins in human care with wild populations.
Dr. Fahlman began his studies by looking at generic lung functions of dolphins compared to animals on land and to humans. This helped him understand the different adaptations that dolphins have and how they have the ability to dive into deep waters. During this research, Dr. Fahlman also became interested in learning about the breathing frequencies of dolphins before and after exercise in correlation to their metabolic rates.
We decided to reach out to Dr. Fahlman and ask him a few questions ourselves!
Q: What percentage of dolphins you work with are rescues and what factors have you taken into consideration when choosing the animals you test?
Dr. Fahlman: We very seldom work with rescue animals as there are very few occasions that those are available to study or work with. For animals under human care, the studies we do have important impact as a way to diagnose lung health and to understand normal lung function so we study all animals that are available. What we do is similar to what human doctors do when they perform spirometry, a medical test that they do to check how healthy your lungs are. So we need samples from you, adult and old animals or both sexes. We also study how changes may occur throughout the year or with age. Basically, we try to cover as many aspects of what dolphins may experience so we can better understand what may affect lung health and use this tool to help sick animals.
Q: What other lifestyle aspects do you acknowledge and/or standardize when translating data from the captive animals to animals in the wild? Example, water temperature, water salinity, food, etc…
Dr. Fahlman: It is difficult to control for everything as we do not know much about what is specific for dolphins, but we know from other animals what happens and what we can control for. But we record things like water and air temperature, how much food they are given, the animals age, sex and weight as those will influence the measurements on lung function. For wild animals, it depends on where we work but in some places where they have good knowledge of the animals we try to record similar things.
Q: Does your research apply only to a specific species of dolphin? Or does your research have a broader goal for marine conservation?
Dr. Fahlman: What we do is mainly for dolphins as that is the species we have the most access too, but the lung function testing as tools to diagnose lung health and disease would be valuable for all marine mammals. It is also very useful for wild animals as we can assess lung health in different populations. For example, we could compare animals in areas where an oil spill has occurred to see how that affects health and compare with animals in areas with little or no pollution.