Research Article

Marine Biology

, Volume 152, Issue 4, pp 827-834

First online:

Brevetoxin exposure in bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) associated with Karenia brevis blooms in Sarasota Bay, Florida

  • Spencer E. FireAffiliated withMote Marine LaboratoryMarine Biotoxins Program, Center for Coastal Environmental Health and Biomolecular Research, NOAA National Ocean Service Email author 
  • , Deborah FauquierAffiliated withMote Marine Laboratory
  • , Leanne J. FlewellingAffiliated withFlorida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, Fish and Wildlife Research Institute
  • , Michael HenryAffiliated withMote Marine Laboratory
  • , Jerome NaarAffiliated withCenter for Marine Science, University of North Carolina at Wilmington
  • , Richard PierceAffiliated withMote Marine Laboratory
  • , Randall S. WellsAffiliated withChicago Zoological Society, c/o Mote Marine Laboratory

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Bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) face a variety of threats, including risk of exposure to brevetoxins produced by blooms of the harmful alga Karenia brevis. This study investigated brevetoxin exposure in a population of dolphins inhabiting Sarasota Bay, Florida, USA (27°N, 82°W), utilizing tissues from dolphins recovered between 1994 and 2003. Brevetoxin levels detected by ELISA in tissues, gastric samples and excreta from dolphin carcasses (n = 19) associated with K. brevis blooms were compared with with levels in carcasses (n = 16) associated with background K. brevis conditions. In the K. brevis-exposed set, 84% of dolphin carcasses recovered during K. brevis blooms had detectable brevetoxin levels, with values ranging between 7 and 2,896 ng PbTx-3 eq g−1. Over 50% of dolphin carcasses recovered during non-bloom conditions also tested positive by ELISA for brevetoxins, with concentrations ranging from 6 to 44 ng PbTx-3 eq g−1. Control samples from the east coast of Florida were negative by the ELISA. Results from this study establish baseline brevetoxin body burdens in a dolphin population frequently exposed to K. brevis blooms, and data indicate that dolphin carcasses not associated with large-scale mortality events can contain levels of brevetoxins comparable to carcasses stranding during such events.