During these health check-ups, veterinarians and biologists gather basic information — sex, weight, length — and conduct physical exams. They also conduct ultrasound examinations to determine reproductive status and check the condition of internal organs, and take blood and other biological samples. Health assessments have been conducted periodically since 1988, as scientific questions warrant, and as financial support has been available to mount the effort — which often includes more than 100 researchers and support team members and a dozen vessels over five to 10 days.
The data collected during Sarasota health assessments has been used to develop medical reference ranges, to understand normal ranges of health parameters, that help for detecting problems when measures occur outside of these norms, as was the case for investigations following the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.
During any given health assessment, we gather information for dozens of different research projects. These projects often include development and testing of new diagnostic tools that improve our knowledge of the health of dolphins in the wild, as well as benefitting dolphins under human care.
Before the dolphins are released, we may also attach tags or freeze-brand them. A freeze-brand is like a medical ID bracelet and provides an unambiguous way to identify dolphins in the future and link their identity to specific medical records.