Document Type



Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor's Name

Charles Bigger

First Advisor's Committee Title

Committee Chair

Second Advisor's Name

Sylvia Smith

Third Advisor's Name

Gerald Murison

Fourth Advisor's Name

John Makemson

Fifth Advisor's Name

George Dalrymple

Date of Defense



Interest in the health of marine mammals has increased due, in part, to the attention given to human impact on the marine environment. Recent mass strandings of the Atlantic bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops truncatus) and rising mortalities of the endangered Florida manatee (Trichechus manatus latirostris) have raised questions on the extent to which pollution, infectious disease, "stress," and captivity influence the immune system of these animals. This study has provided the first in-depth characterization of immunocytes in the peripheral blood of dolphins (n=180) and manatees (n=56). Immunocyte morphology and baseline values were determined in clinically normal animals under free-ranging, stranded and captive living conditions as well as by age and sex. Additionally, immuocyte population dynamics were characterized in sick animals. This was accomplished with traditional cytochemical techniques and new lymphocyte phenotyping methodology which was validated in this study. Traditional cytochemical techniques demonstrated that blood immunocyte morphology and cell numbers are similar to terrestrial mammals with some notable exceptions. The manatee heterophilic granulocyte is a morphologically unique cell and probably functions similarly to the typical mammalian neutrophil. Eosinophils were rarely found in manatees but were uncommonly high in healthy and sick dolphins. Basophils were not identified. Manatees had higher total lymphocyte numbers compared to dolphins and most terrestrial mammals. Lymphocyte subsets identified in healthy animals included Th, Tes, B and NK cells. Dolphin and manatee T and B cell values were higher than those reported in man and most terrestrial mammals. The manatee has extraordinarily high absolute numbers of circulating Th cells which suggests an enhanced immunological response capability. With few exceptions, immunocyte types and absolute numbers were not significantly different between free-ranging, stranded and captive categories or between sex and age categories. The evaluation of immunocyte dynamics in various disease states demonstrated a wide variation in cellular responses which provided new insights into innate, humoral and cell-mediated immunity in these species. Additionally, this study demonstrated that lymphocyte phenotyping has diagnostic significance and could be developed into a potential indicator of immunocompetence in both free-ranging and captive dolphin and manatee populations.




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