Resorts World Sentosa partners US university to study mercury accumulation in dolphins

SINGAPORE - Environmental scientists from an American university are collaborating with researchers from Dolphin Island at Resorts World Sentosa (RWS) to learn more about how and where mercury accumulates in the bodies of Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphins.

The researchers are analysing blood samples and health records from ten dolphins that have been under the care of Dolphin Island for more than five years. Since their arrival from the Solomon Islands, they have been fed a diet of fish and squid.

Because the marine mammals' blood has been sampled regularly by scientists at RWS, researchers can analyse them and look for any change in mercury levels.

The project's principal investigator is Edward Bouwer, chair of the Department of Geography and Environmental Engineering at Johns Hopkins' Whiting School of Engineering in Baltimore. He said: "The main thing we're trying to determine is how the diet in the controlled environment may influence the health of dolphins, with respect to mercury consumption."

The study aims to shed light on the impact of mercury on the oceans, which humans rely on for food.

Ingestion of a form of mercury, called methylmercury, which accumulates in seafood and other sources over a prolonged period, can harm the human brain and other parts of the nervous system, particularly in young children.

Dolphins, sharks and other predators at the top of the food chain that consume too much methylmercury may suffer similar damage.

Dr Alfonso Lopez, chief veterinarian at Resorts World Sentosa, said: "Marine education, conservation and research have been key pillars at Dolphin Island, and we are glad to collaborate with Johns Hopkins University in furthering our knowledge of marine mammals."

Resorts World Sentosa is providing more than US$150,000 in funding support for the initial 16-month project.