Theses and Dissertations

Issuing Body

Mississippi State University


Willard, Scott T.

Committee Member

Ryan, Peter L.

Committee Member

Feugang, Jean M. N.

Committee Member

Brown-Johnson, Ashli

Date of Degree


Document Type

Dissertation - Open Access


Animal Physiology (Program)

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


College of Agriculture and Life Sciences


Department of Animal and Dairy Sciences


The goal of this long-term study was to better understand the reproductive biology of the female bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops truncatus) and provide a hypothesis for how dolphins may communicate reproductive readiness to one another. Utilizing conditioned dolphins in aquaria, this dissertation examined several previously unknown aspects of dolphin reproduction, including ovarian follicular dynamics during the luteinizing hormone surge, urinary prolactin levels, estrus behavior, vaginal fluid arboriform arrangement, in-situ vaginal and cervical anatomy during estrus, reversed-phase high-performance liquid chromatography (RP-HPLC) of urine samples to identify proteins and peptides that may be used in chemical communication, and a review and anatomical analysis of dolphin vibrassal crypts. The diffusely seasonal dolphin estrous cycle is not controlled by photoperiod and has a 10-day follicular and 20-day luteal phase. A brief ovulatory LH surge is followed by ovulation within 48 hours. An ethogram of 20 reproductive behaviors was developed, and all occurrences of reproductive behavior were analyzed during conceptive estrous cycles. A novel form of standing heat estrus, termed immobility, was observed, and estrus dolphins displayed genital nuzzling, active and passive mounting with other females, and an increase of standing heat intensity as LH levels rose. Prolactin plays a role in pregnancy maintenance, mammary development, allo-mothering behavior, lactation, and lactational anestrus. Dolphins are similar to sows where weaning causes a return to estrus, and in the boar effect, where days to ovulation are shortened in the presence of a mature male. Dolphin vaginal fluid showed crystallization arrangements with large open mesh patterns, conducive to sperm transport, during the estrogenic follicular phase, and closed mesh during the luteal phase. RP-HPLC analysis revealed that urine contained large amounts of peptides and proteins with peaks that change throughout the estrous cycle and with changes in social grouping. Remnant vibrissae from dolphin follicular crypts were sectioned, and it was hypothesized that trigeminal nerve endings could act similarly to those found in the nasal mucosa of terrestrial species and respond to chemical stimuli. This study provides new data to better understand the reproductive biology of a holaquatic mammal.



neonate||nursing||mammary gland||follicles||cryopreservation||cervix||uterus||ovaries||anatomy||crypts||vibrassae||lutenizing hormone||progesterone||estrogen||testosterone||semen||urine||biology||tursiops truncatus||bottlenose dolphin||pheromone||prolactin||endocrinology||ultrasound||estrus||ovulation||behavior||reproduction||dolphin