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Chicago Zoological Society Receives Grant from Morris Animal Foundation
Funding Supports Research on Long-Term Effects of Gulf Oil Spill on Dolphins in Sarasota Bay

The Chicago Zoological Society (CZS) is pleased to announce that it is the recipient of a grant from Morris Animal Foundation’s Betty White Wildlife Rapid Response Fund. The Fund provides wildlife researchers with timely monetary aid to respond to unexpected events such as natural disasters and emerging diseases that result in the immediate need for animal health research. The grant CZS received is providing its scientists with funding to conduct research on the effects the 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico could have on dolphins living in the Sarasota Bay region.

Currently, approximately 160 bottlenose dolphins spanning five generations live in Sarasota Bay off the west coast of Florida. The Deepwater Horizon oil spill could have profound effects on their health, behavior, and reproductive success if they are exposed to the oil and chemicals spilled or the dispersants used to clean up the site.

Leading the research is Randall Wells, Ph.D., senior conservation scientist for the Chicago Zoological Society and an international authority in dolphin research and conservation. The Chicago Zoological Society’s Sarasota Dolphin Research Program, now in its 40th year, is the world’s longest-running study of a wild dolphin population. The Program is a collaborative effort with Mote Marine Laboratory in Sarasota, Florida.

Randall Wells

Dr. Wells and other researchers are collaborating with federal agencies that are responding to and assessing the impact of the oil spill. “We have offered our services to agencies that are working to assess the impact of the oil spill on dolphins and other wildlife,” said Dr. Wells. “Data we have collected through the Chicago Zoological Society’s Sarasota Dolphin Research Program is now even more critical because it provides a benchmark to look at the immediate and long-term impact of the spill on dolphins in our region. Our history of scientific studies can be an important resource and could help guide public policy decisions that can help protect dolphins.”

Dr. Wells’ research includes benchmark information on aspects of dolphin biology, including health, behavior, genetics, environmental change, and adverse interactions with humans. The program has gained an international reputation for providing high-quality information of importance to dolphin conservation.

“There is a long history of research on this population of dolphins,” said Patricia Olson, DVM, Ph.D., president and CEO of Morris Animal Foundation. “This project has a great chance of documenting the effects of severe and chronic oil pollution in this species and many more animals affected by pollution found in the ocean.”

Key federal agencies have identified accredited zoos and aquariums as important partners in animal rescue and rehabilitation for the Gulf’s wildlife. The Chicago Zoological Society’s Brookfield Zoo is one of several zoos accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) that is mobilizing to help wildlife affected by the oil spill.

Morris Animal Foundation is one of the only a few organizations in the world funding health-specific research for wild species. Since 1967, Foundation-funded research has advanced the health of our planet’s wildlife—and, in some cases, has ensured the very survival of a species. For further information, visit,