Marine Mammal Health Project

Collection of baseline data on cetacean health and causes of mortality for long-term monitoring in Western Australia.


Lead Researchers


During the last century, human activities have resulted in the reduced quality of oceans throughout the world, and in Western Australia, increasing anthropogenic activities have the potential to further degrade habitat important to cetaceans. All disease is multifactorial and a complex interplay between host, agent and environment. An understanding of the diseases that affect cetaceans and causes of mortality is an important component in the identification and evaluation of threats to the population.

Research aims

  1. Identification and characterisation of factors associated with cetacean strandings
  2. Determination of baseline and epidemiological information on disease levels.

Performing a post-mortem investigation on a bottlenose dolphin with stranded on the coast of south-west Western Australia. Photo: MUCRU.

Specific objectives

  • Collect morphometric and life history data (e.g. size, sex, age class).
  • Undertake partial and where feasible full post-mortem examinations to acquire information on causes of morbidity and mortality, and to collect tissues for pathogen identification, histopathology and toxicology.
  • Isolate and identify pathogenic viruses, bacteria, protozoa, or fungi from tissue samples (where appropriate).
  • Archive tissue samples for long-term disease surveillance, toxicological monitoring, and retrospective study.
  • Establish beneficial collaborations within WA, nationally and internationally in order to enhance the information gained from the samples collected.


  • Stephens, N., Duignan, P.J., Wang, J., Bingham, J., Finn, H., Bejder, L., Patterson, I.A.P., and Holyoake, C. (2014). First report of mortality in coastal Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops aduncus) from Western Australia associated with a divergent cetacean morbillivirus. Emerging Infectious Diseases 20:666-670. doi:  10.3201/eid2004.131714
  • Krzyszczyk, E., Kopps, A. M., Bacher, K., Smith, H., Stephens, N., Meighan, N. A. and Mann, J. (2012). A report on six cases of seagrass-associated gastric impaction in bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops sp.). Marine Mammal Science 29:548-554. doi: 10.1111/j.1748-7692.2012.00579.x
  • Holyoake, C., Finn, H., Stephens, N., Duignan, P., Salgado, C., Smith, H.C., Bejder, L., Linke, T., Daniel, C., Lo, H.N., Ham, G.S., Moiler, K., Allen, S.J., Bryant, K. and McElligott, D. (2010). Technical report on the bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops aduncus) unusual mortality event within the Swan Canning Riverpark, June-October 2009. Report to the Swan River Trust. Murdoch University School of Veterinary and Life Sciences and Centre for Fish and Fisheries Research. 190pp.


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