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Can Dolphins get sick like humans do?

1. Disease

Just like us, dolphins are prone to a variety of diseases that cause sickness. Dolphins may suffer from viral, bacterial, and fungal infections. In addition, they may develop stomach ulcers, skin diseases, tumors, heart disease, urogenital disorders, and respiratory disorders.

Along with general diseases and infections, dolphins can also suffer from sickness due to what us Floridians know too well “Red Tide”. Just like how humans suffer respiratory issues from red tide, dolphins suffer from the brevotoxins in red tide toxins. During the recent red tide pandemic in 2019, 176 dolphins died from the toxic red tide algae blooms between Collier and Pinellas counties. Biologists say dolphins are particularly at risk from red tide because they breathe in the toxins and eat contaminated fish. Red tide experts say the toxins can linger for months along the coast meaning dolphins aren’t safe for a long time.

2. Predator

While Bottlenose Dolphins are known to fight off many of their predators, like sharks, some of their predators still win their fight against dolphins. Dolphins most commonly known natural predator are sharks. This includes certain large shark species such as tiger sharks, dusky sharks, bull sharks, and great white sharks.

Did you know that close to home in Sarasota Bay, about 31% of dolphins have shark bite scars? While dolphins are known to fight back against these predators, sharks can still get in a good bite or two that causes long term damage or infection. Killer whales may also occasionally prey on bottlenose dolphins. Lastly, while stingrays are not dolphin predators, some dolphin deaths have been attributed to trauma, infection, and poisoning from stingray wounds.

3. Human Impact

Sadly, one of the most common reasons dolphins face threats and suffer from many types of sickness is because of human actions.

Dolphins, particularly coastal animals, are affected by heavy boat traffic, habitat loss and pollution. Industrial and agricultural pollutants, like pesticides, also cause a high health risk. Pesticides often enter coastal habitats through runoff, resulting in high levels of toxins both in the water and in the dolphin tissues. This results in a build-up of the toxins in the animal’s tissues and can affect their reproductive health, which can lead to death.

Hunting of bottlenose dolphins has also become an increasing issue in their lives, as well. Bottlenose dolphins have been taken directly for meat, leather, and oil, primarily in Japan. In fact, Japanese dolphin hunts kill nearly 20,000 dolphins, porpoises and small whales every year. Hunting still occurs in various parts of the world including Peru, Japan, the Solomon Islands, and the Faro Islands.

Being aware of the great impact we have on the lives of these creatures’ health is just the first step in helping. While we can’t necessarily protect dolphins from viruses, red tide toxins, and predators, we can protect them from. We can start living more eco-friendly lives, act responsibly when boating and help spread awareness of dolphin hunting in hopes of ending it completely in the future.

Here at Dolphin Quest we love our Bottlenose Dolphins and want nothing more than for them to live happy, healthy lives. Come see them up close and you’ll feel the same way!

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