On March 27th, Amber Keuhn, our lead stranding volunteer in HHI, responded to a deceased, female, spotted dolphin on the beach in Hilton Head. There are two species of spotted dolphins that can be found offshore in South Carolina: Pantropical spotted dolphins (Stenella attenuata) and Atlantic spotted dolphins (Stenella frontalis). Tooth counts from this animal helped us determine this to be an Atlantic spotted dolphin.
Unfortunately, no significant findings were noted during necropsy and cause of death remains unclear. However, we still collected samples that are archived at the NOAA NOS Laboratory for any future research projects.
Fun comment on Atlantic spotted dolphins:
LMMN stranding tech, Nicole, interned with the Wild Dolphin Project (WDP) which is a non-profit organization that conducts long-term underwater research on Atlantic spotted dolphins in the Bahamas. Their non-invasive approach ("In their world, on their terms") has allowed researchers to observe these animals underwater in their natural habitat to study their life history, behavior, and communication.
While we rely on photo-ID of dorsal fins to identify our bottlenose dolphins here in Charleston, WDP actually relies on the different spotting patterns on each animal for identification! Spotted dolphins are not born with spots, but acquire them as they grow. Based on the extensive black and white spots on the sides and bottom, this animal that stranded would be considered "fused" and was likely 10+ years old!
Spotted dolphins are also a bit smaller and more streamlined than bottlenose dolphins and can make bottlenose dolphins look quite derpy in comparison!
Picture from Nicole: Taken while on a research trip with the Wild Dolphin Project. A large group of Atlantic spotted dolphins. All research in non-invasive and done under permit.