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11 October 2021 Fatal Blowhole Obstruction by Eel in Common Bottlenose Dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) in Florida, USA
Michelle Greenfield, Teresa Jablonski, Anna Panike, David S. Rotstein, Judy St. Leger, Wendy Noke Durden
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Abstract

Esophageal and pharyngeal obstruction are commonly reported in marine mammals, but asphyxiation from blowhole and nasal cavity obstruction has been reported only rarely: in two long-finned pilot whales (Globicephala melas), several harbor porpoises (Phocoena phocoena), and one common bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops truncatus). We describe two cases of blowhole obstruction and subsequent asphyxiation in bottlenose dolphins caused by eels. A whip eel (Bascanichthys scuticaris) was found obstructing the blowhole of a deceased dolphin from the Indian River Lagoon, Florida, US (2011) and a shrimp eel (Ophichthus gomesii) was found obstructing the blowhole of a deceased dolphin from Tampa Bay, Florida (2020). Normally, the respiratory and digestive tracts of cetaceans do not communicate. Consuming large or oddly shaped prey can result in laryngeal displacement and subsequent interaction between the two systems. It is likely the eels entered the oral cavity while the dolphins were consuming or playing with prey, and laryngeal displacement enabled the eels to slither into and become stuck in the nasal passage, causing asphyxiation. These novel findings underscore the importance of continued investigation into causes of mortality in stranded marine mammals and can contribute to the knowledge of feeding ecology in bottlenose dolphins. As changing environmental conditions contribute to shifts in prey availability and abundance, mortality due to prey-related asphyxiation could become more common in odontocetes.

© Wildlife Disease Association 2021
Michelle Greenfield, Teresa Jablonski, Anna Panike, David S. Rotstein, Judy St. Leger, and Wendy Noke Durden "Fatal Blowhole Obstruction by Eel in Common Bottlenose Dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) in Florida, USA," Journal of Wildlife Diseases 57(4), 959-963, (11 October 2021). https://doi.org/10.7589/JWD-D-21-00016
Received: 4 February 2021; Accepted: 22 April 2021; Published: 11 October 2021
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