Our abilities to assess health risks to free-ranging dolphin populations, to treat live-stranded or captive dolphins, and to evaluate the risks of disease transmission between humans and dolphins have suffered from a lack of basic information on microorganisms associated with normal, presumably healthy free-ranging individuals. In order to provide these data, we sampled free-ranging bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) off Florida, Texas, and North Carolina during 1990–2002. Blowhole and anal/fecal samples yielded 1,871 bacteria and yeast isolates and included 85 different species or groups of organisms. Vibrios, unidentified pseudomonads, Escherichia coli, Staphylococcus spp., and a large group of nonfermenting Gram-negative bacteria represented >50% of isolates. Vibrio alginolyticus and Vibrio damsela were the most commonly recovered bacteria from both anal/fecal and blowhole samples. Many organisms occurred sporadically in dolphins that were sampled repeatedly, but some were consistently isolated from individual animals and may indicate the carrier state. Vibrios were common, but some geographic variability in the presence of these and other organisms was noted. Potential pathogens of significance to humans and other animals were recovered.

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