Student Research Projects

Mercury in bottlenose dolphins (tursiops truncatus) from the coast of Virginia

Student Sherie Coleman ‘17 (Biology)
Matt Cooke ‘16 (Earth and Environmental Science)
Hannah Rice ‘15 (Earth and Environmental Science)
Faculty Mentor(s)
Department Earth and Environmental Sciences
Course Earth and Environmental Science 489: Research in Earth and Environmental Science


Mercury is a highly toxic metal that enters the ocean through runoff and atmospheric deposition. In water and sediments, it can be converted by bacteria to methylmercury, which may then bioaccumulate through aquatic food webs. In an original study designed to assess mercury levels in dolphins stranded in Virginia, tissues were obtained from 76 dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) that had been recovered and necropsied by the Virginia Aquarium Stranding Response Program from 2009-2014. Preliminary results indicate that tissue of longer length dolphins had higher mercury levels. There were no notable concentration differences between male and female dolphins of similar length. Thirteen individuals had liver concentrations greater than the observed effect level for liver abnormalities seen by Rawson et al. (1993), which suggests that mercury may have affected liver function in these animals. Mercury levels in this population are similar to levels published for bottlenose dolphins from Florida, Israel, and France.


Recipient of a Virginia Wesleyan Undergraduate Research Grant for Research, 2014


Presented at the Southeast and Mid-Atlantic Marine Mammal Symposium, March 2015.