Dolphins to undergo necropsy

DOLPHIN: Dr Catherine Kemper points out some of the finer points of dolphin anatomy.
DOLPHIN: Dr Catherine Kemper points out some of the finer points of dolphin anatomy.

Two juvenile dolphins discovered washed up at the foreshore have been transported to the SA Museum Laboratory to undergo a necropsy.

The dolphins, which were discovered within a month of each other, have been sent to the laboratory to establish the cause of death. 

The facility at Bolivar in Adelaide, is a unique preparation facility where large animals and fish such as dolphins and whales can be examined and preserved for further study.

SA Museum curator doctor Catherine Kemper took delivery of the dolphins.

The Whyalla dolphins were inshore bottlenose dolphins and the museum is keen to check them for heavy metal toxicity.

Dr Kemper said as these dolphins fed at the bottom of the shallow waters of the Upper Spencer Gulf, they could have ingested materials related to industry in the area. 

"There is research going on at the moment looking at heavy metal toxicity in dolphins by looking at the levels in the kidneys and bones," she said.

"Indications are that the levels of cadmium, lead and zinc are at least twice that of ocean dwelling dolphins.

"These heavy metals could be getting into the Upper Spencer Gulf from heavy industry such as the Whyalla steelworks, Port Pirie lead smelter or the Port Augusta power station or from agricultural run off."

Dr Kemper said the studies were important for marine life but also because of the implications for human health, as people eat the fish from the Upper Spencer Gulf.

"South Australia is lucky to have this facility," she said

"It is the only one of its kind in Australia, especially set up to handle large animals."

She said the facility had been used to process the stranded sperm whales from Patara Beach on the Yorke Peninsula.

The museum had recovered one full skeleton and several skulls which would be used for research.