DAUPHIN ISLAND, Ala. (WKRG) — News 5’s Caroline Carithers talked with researchers at the Dauphin Island Sea Lab about how different parts of deceased animals can be used to see changes in our local waterways as well as how the animals respond to changing environments.

Dr. Ruth Carmichael is a Senior Marine Scientist at the Dauphin Island Sea Lab as well as a professor of marine sciences at the University of South Alabama. She explains that when an animal passes away, “We can use the hard parts on animals such as ear bones, shells of oysters and teeth of animals like dolphins that act as time capsules.”

Dr. Carmichael compares this research to how other scientists use tree rings on a tree to tell different characteristics of that species. In this research, they use the hard parts of the animal to tell their diets, environments, and even cause of death.

Dr. Carmichael’s student, Matthew Hodanbosi specifically looks at deceased dolphin’s teeth. He explains that since dolphin’s teeth age from before birth to death (like tree rings), you really get an inside view of the dolphin’s entire life from diet to changes in environment. He adds, “Mobile Bay gets huge pulses of freshwater that changes the salinity and chemical makeup of the bay.” In his research, you can see these pulses of freshwater by looking at the dolphin’s teeth. Check out the video for more details!

To report an animal death or sighting please call these numbers:

Manatee sightings or strandings: 1-866-493-5803

Dolphin strandings: 1-877-WHALE-HELP