Bottlenose Dolphin Research

Stories from the Scientists

Bottlenose Dolphin

Half the bottlenose dolphins born in the resident population of Sarasota Bay, Florida, fail to survive to maturity.

To understand what role nutritional factors play in high infant mortality, our team is studying the nutritional requirements of adults and calves to determine whether or not they are being met. For adult bottlenose dolphins, this means understanding how much food they need for maintenance and successful reproduction and, for newborns and young dolphins, what they need for growth and development. Because young dolphins depend on their mothers’ milk for several months after birth, the team is looking closely at the quantity and quality of milk mothers produce to determine whether they are sufficient for normal growth and development of calves.

Dr. Randall Wells, a researcher with the Chicago Zoological Society, has been conducting detailed field studies of the bottlenose dolphins of Sarasota Bay for more than 35 years. During his long-term study, he has amassed a unique and unprecedented database on this species in the wild, including the reproductive histories of four generations of animals, the condition and health status of most individuals in the population, virtually complete population demographic data, and the quantity and quality of available prey.

Bottlenose Dolphin

Randall has learned a great deal about dolphins in the last three-and-a-half decades, in large part because he has teamed up with collaborators with special expertise In this study, Randall has teamed up with National Zoo nutritionists Dr. Olav Oftedal and Dr. Kristi West and comparative physiologist Dr. Regina Eisert—to study two key features of the nutrition of calves that they believe may relate to low calf survivorship: the composition of maternal milk and the intake of solid food by calves.

Read stories from the scientists themselves! Each scientists writes about a typical day in the field and explains their individual expertise and contributions to the project overall.

Story 1: What's going on with Sarasota's Dolphin calves?

Story 2: What does the milk from wild dolphins look like?

Story 3: From the field: Research on Sarasota Bay wild dolphins

Story 4: Biomarkers 101

Story 5: What does the milk from captive dolphins look like?

Story 6: Biomarkers: Insight into dolphin life