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Dolphins Deep Breathe on Camera for Oil Spill Science

Sophisticated imagery leads to new understanding of how dolphin breathing could impact oil exposure.

MARCH 30, 2022 ⁠— Those excited squeaks in the video below are from Bayley the dolphin, who lives at The National Aquarium in Baltimore, Maryland. Scientists are studying Bayley’s behavior to better understand the impacts of oil spills on dolphins. When Bayley displays the correct breathing behavior she self-congratulates, squeaking and chirping excitedly. Her caretaker tosses her fish for a job well done.

Bayley surfaces in the view of a specially-designed, mounted camera on the pool’s edge. She exhales a cloud of mist into the air then immediately inhales air and some of the mist that forms over her head as she surfaces. Although this study is designed to help scientists understand the impacts of oil spills on dolphins, don’t worry — this water is clean. 

Bayley’s simple act and the sample it provides helps explain some of the mechanics of how dolphins breathe. Scientists will use this information to contribute to efforts to improve disaster response during future oil spills, and to help restore marine mammal populations impacted by pollution.

This work is made possible through collaborations between NOAA, The National Aquarium, Johns Hopkins University, the Coastal Response Research Center and Center for Spills and Environmental Hazards and funding from the Deepwater Horizon Open Ocean Trustee Implementation Group as part of a 2019 Open Ocean Restoration Plan.

For more details on the research, visit the OR&R blog.

Last updated Thursday, March 31, 2022 3:04pm PDT