Stiftung Tierärztliche Hochschule Hannover (TiHo)

The Irrawaddy dolphin, Orcaella brevirostris from the Mekong river Cambodia : preliminary health and toxicological investigations

The subpopulation of the Irrawaddy dolphin (Orcaella brevirostris) living in the Mekong River, Cambodia, is considered to be critically endangered. The aim of the investigation was to gain information about the genetic variation, health status and exposure to toxic compounds of these dolphins. Tissue samples from 27 Irrawaddy river dolphins found dead along the Mekong River between 2004 and 2009 were analysed with regards to genetics, pathology and ecotoxicology. Genetic maternal lineage detection, based on polymorphisms of the mitochondrial d-loop sequences, was performed. Data indicate a genetic separation of the Mekong dolphins from both the coastal population and the Mahakam dolphins. Pathological investigations revealed acute moderate multifocal suppurative bronchopneumonia, moderate periportal hepatic lipidosis, moderate diffuse hepatic atrophy and acute severe diffuse suppurative leptomeningitis. Residue levels of organochlorines and polybrominated diphenyl ethers in Irrawaddy dolphins from the Mekong River were lower than the concentrations reported for other cetaceans in the coastal and riverine waters of Asia, except for Dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane. A high percentage of organic mercury compared to the immuno-toxic methylmercury was observed. Due to numerous confounding factors, it is not possible to relate levels of pollutants to observed morphological lesions. However, it is likely that chemical contaminants do adversely impact on the health of the Irrawaddy dolphins at present, and have also affected previous generations.

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