Florida International University researchers have developed a tool that can tell a dolphin’s age through a small skin sample. It’s called the Bottlenose Dolphin Epigenetic Age Estimation Tool — or BEAT.
Wait, we can’t already age dolphins?
Well yes, but it’s not an easy task. It involves pulling a dolphin’s tooth and then cutting it in half and counting the growth layers similar to counting the rings on a tree trunk. This is much quicker, and less invasive.
Why this matters
Having an accurate and fast way to age dolphins can help scientists evaluate the overall health of a population.
For example, if a dolphin population skews older, it will impact their chance for survival. But, a younger population could be more vulnerable to predators. An even distribution of age ranges is a sign of a healthy population.
FIU marine biologist Jeremy Kiszka said he can also use this information to understand how a dolphin’s diet changes with age, and how age might affect the pollutant levels in a dolphin’s tissue.
The researchers will be implementing BEAT to research a population of dolphins in Naples, Fla. The team also hopes to develop similar tools to age other marine species, like sharks.
The takeaway message
Scientists now have a new tool in their toolbox to age a dolphin without pulling teeth. This tool could help them better understand population health.
The research, which was published in Frontiers in Marine Science, is supported by grants from the National Science Foundation. FIU researcher Jose Eirin-Lopez and Ph.D. student Andria Beal were the lead authors on this study.