SKIN SWABBING FOR GENETIC ANALYSIS: APPLICATION TO DUSKY DOLPHINS (LAGENORHYNCHUS OBSCURUS)

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Abstract

Exfoliated skin was collected from bowriding dolphins with the use of a sterilized nylon scrub pad affixed to a wooden dowel. Initial tests of the effectiveness of the technique and dolphin behavioral responses were conducted on dusky dolphins off Kaikoura, New Zealand. During 14 sampling days, 128 contacts using this procedure were made with bowriding dolphins, of which 114 showed behavioral response. Responses during sampling were mild, with 11% of contacted individuals showing no visible response, and 66% of individuals which could be monitored for 30 sec after contact returning to bowride within 30 sec. Mean return time was 10 sec postcontact and did not vary significantly for groups of different sizes. Behavioral controls suggest that a proportion of responses could be explained by typical dolphin behavior in the presence of boats. Seventy-eight percent of contacts resulted in successful collection of tissue samples. Sample time was three minutes on average. Size of group and behavioral state did not appear to influence sample time. Preliminary genetic analyses revealed that tissue collected by this technique was suitable for amplification and sequencing of mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) via PCR. Comparisons of mtDNA control region sequences with those from known L. obscurus and other delphinid samples verified that this technique was robust against contamination from elements in sea water.

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