Physiological and Morphological Analysis of Bottlenose Dolphin Thermoregulatory Function

EPA Grant Number: FP916435
Title: Physiological and Morphological Analysis of Bottlenose Dolphin Thermoregulatory Function
Investigators: Meagher, Erin M.
Institution: University of North Carolina - Wilmington
EPA Project Officer: Cobbs-Green, Gladys M.
Project Period: January 1, 2004 through December 31, 2004
Project Amount: $87,744
RFA: STAR Graduate Fellowships (2004) RFA Text |  Recipients Lists
Research Category: Fellowship - Zoology , Academic Fellowships , Biology/Life Sciences


Global mean surface temperatures have increased since the late 19th century and are predicted to continue to rise over the next century. These global changes in environmental temperature could have profound impacts on a multitude of organisms, including marine mammals. To date, there are few studies that have investigated thermoregulatory function in, or the effects of thermal stress on, any wild cetaceans (whale, dolphin, or porpoise). There also are no data available to describe how wild cetaceans respond physiologically to changes in ambient temperature that might be experienced diurnally, seasonally, or during extended migrations. Without these baseline data, there is no way to understand how long-term changes in global temperature or thermal stressors may affect populations of marine mammals. Thus, the objective of this research project is to examine the thermal biology of the bottlenose dolphin, Tursiops truncatus, a geographically widespread and well-studied cetacean species.


This project will use two complementary approaches to examine the bottlenose dolphin’s thermoregulation in environments with large differences in ambient temperature. First, direct physiological measurements of heat flux, skin surface temperature, and blubber thickness from dolphins resident to Sarasota Bay, FL, will be used to determine how whole body conductance changes with seasonal variations in ambient temperature. Second, morphometric measurements of body and appendage size will elucidate how these physiological parameters may affect bottlenose dolphins across a large latitudinal gradient. This portion of my study will investigate dolphins from Sarasota Bay, FL, the U.S. Atlantic coast, and the waters off of Scotland. Understanding how the thermal windows and body surface function to regulate body temperature in response to both seasonal and geographic patterns of temperature change will provide baseline information useful in monitoring the potential effects of global warming on cetacean populations.

Supplemental Keywords:

fellowship, thermoregulatory function, thermal stress, cetaceans, global temperature, bottlenose dolphin, Tursiops truncatus, ambient temperature, heat flux, skin surface temperature, blubber thickness, seasonal temperature variations, global warming,, RFA, Scientific Discipline, Air, climate change, Air Pollution Effects, Zoology, Biochemistry, Environmental Monitoring, Atmosphere, climatic influence, thermal stress, bottlenose dolphin, aquatic ecology, global warming, predicting ecological response

Relevant Websites:

2004 STAR Graduate Fellowship Conference Poster (PDF, 1p., 172KB, about PDF)