Previous studies in our lab have shown that perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) modulates immune function in mice and correlates with many immune parameters in bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus). In this study, bottlenose dolphin peripheral blood leukocytes (PBLs) and adult female B6C3F1 mouse splenocytes were exposed to environmentally relevant PFOS concentrations (0–5 µg ml–1) in vitro; and natural killer (NK) cell activity and lymphocyte proliferation (T and B cell) were assessed using the parallelogram approach for risk assessment. The objectives were: to corroborate results from the correlative studies in bottlenose dolphins with in vitro PFOS exposures; to evaluate the sensitivity of the mouse model as compared with bottlenose dolphins; and to assess risk using the parallelogram approach. In mouse cells, NK cell activity was decreased at in vitro doses of 0.01, 0.5, 0.1, 0.5 and 1 µg PFOS ml–1 and increased at 5 µg ml–1. Additionally, B cell proliferation was not altered, but T cell proliferation was decreased at all in vitro PFOS exposures. In dolphin cells, NK cell activity and T cell proliferation were not altered by in vitro PFOS exposure, but B cell proliferation exhibited a positive association in relation to PFOS dose. Overall, the data indicates that: the in vitro exposures of bottlenose dolphin PBLs exhibited results similar to reported correlative fields studies; that mice were generally more sensitive (for these selected endpoints) than were dolphins; and that the parallelogram approach could be used two-thirds of the time to predict the effects in bottlenose dolphins. Copyright © 2013 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.