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Sci Total Environ. 2001 Jul 2;274(1-3):171-82.

Opportunities for using Navy marine mammals to explore associations between organochlorine contaminants and unfavorable effects on reproduction.

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  • 1SAIC Maritime Division, San Diego, CA 92110, USA. reddy@spawar.navy.mil


The Department of Defense (DoD) has a unique marine mammal program maintained by the US Navy that includes the largest force of bottlenose dolphins, Tursiops truncatus, worldwide. In recent years, this population of cetaceans that lives in netted open water enclosures in San Diego Bay has been monitored for levels of organochlorine (OC) contaminants in blubber, blood and milk. Data generated from these studies have afforded insight into the fate and possible effects of OC contaminants in marine mammals. We now report preliminary findings on the effects of maternal OC exposure on pregnancy outcome. Blubber OC levels were compared between females whose calves survived beyond 6 months and females whose calves were stillborn or died within 12 days of birth. The mean concentration of SigmaDDT was more than 3 times as high among dolphins whose calves died as that among dolphins whose calves survived beyond 6 months (P = 0.002). Mean SigmaPCB was more than 2.5 times higher in females whose calves did not survive (P= 0.076). This population is a logical sentinel for the assessment of environmentally mediated disease. Biological tissues and fluids can be sampled on a regular basis from the dolphins for accumulation of tissue residues, facilitated by conditioned husbandry behaviors. These trained behaviors help preclude possible alterations in health measures resulting from capture stress. Animals' diets can be monitored for contaminant levels. With these data, the expertise and facilities available at the Navy laboratory and in collaboration with other experts in the field, controlled studies can be designed to monitor and assess dietary exposure, measurable immune and neurologic responses and assess reproductive and transgenerational effects of contaminants. Biomarkers can be developed to relate the health of individual animals relative to contaminant exposures. Such investigations of natural exposure and response scenarios are a logical adjunct to traditional laboratory toxicity studies.

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