Why Are Dolphins Taking a Breathalyzer Test?

by Carolyn Sotka


Credit: American Chemical Society

No, they are not drunk. Maybe a bear gets drunk, but not dolphins. The new ‘dolphin breathalyzer’ is a diagnostic tool to help monitor dolphin health and shed light on factors that contribute to strandings and unusual mortality events, as seen recently on the eastern seaboard.

In a new report in the American Chemical Society’s journal ‘Analytical Chemistry’, Professor Cristina E. Davis and her team at UC Davis, developed this relatively non-invasive test to ‘capture’ dolphin breath and analyze metabolites.  These substances can point to potential environmental exposures or disease state. Currently, most tools that assess marine mammal health require more invasive procedures such as skin biopsy or blood sampling.


Photo: Brian Lam. 

The researchers developed an insulated tube to trap exhaled breath from the blowhole of dolphins, both in the wild and in captivity. They established healthy baseline profiles and identified changes in the breath of animals affected by disease or other factors. Over 1000 substances can be detected, some with links to accumulated toxins in the dolphins and also as indicators of ocean health.

Click here to learn more about the on-going work in the Davis Lab and recent developments of this new procedure. – CS

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