The Navys Dolphins Have a Few Things to Tell Us About Aging
SAN DIEGO White caps were breaking in the bay and the rain was blowing sideways, but at Naval Base Point Loma, an elderly bottlenose dolphin named Blue was absolutely not acting her age. In a bay full of dolphins, she was impossible to miss, leaping from the water and whistling as a team of veterinarians approached along the floating docks.
Shes always really happy to see us, said Dr. Barb Linnehan, the director of animal health and welfare at the National Marine Mammal Foundation, a nonprofit research organization. She acts like shes a 20-year-old dolphin.
But at 57, Blue is positively geriatric, one of the oldest dolphins in the U.S. Navy Marine Mammal Program. So the doctors had come to check on her heart.
Dr. Linnehan unpacked a dolphin-friendly electrocardiogram and bent over the edge of the dock, where Blue had surfaced. Then she carefully pressed four rubber suction cups, each containing a Bluetooth-enabled electrode, onto the dolphins slippery skin.
Dr. Linnehan wiped the rain off her tablet and studied the screen. Thats her arrhythmia there, she said, pointing to an oscillating wave marching across the display. The team first detected the irregular heartbeat several years earlier and had been monitoring it ever since.
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