BALTIMORE, Aug. 30 (UPI) -- U.S. researchers have demonstrated a kinder, gentler way of collecting dolphin DNA for scientific study, scientists say.
A harmless "breath" test using the dolphin's "blow" or exhalation is replacing traditional "dart biopsying," which involves firing a dart with a small barb into the flank of the animal that yields a plug of tissue, BBC News reported Monday.
Dolphins are mammals and must breathe out through blowholes on the tops of their heads. The "blow" is exhaled at great force, and cells from the surface of the lungs from which DNA can be extracted can be found in their blow and easily collected.
Researchers worked with six bottlenose dolphins at the National Aquarium in Baltimore that were trained to blow on command with a touch on the forehead.
"The blow goes way up high in the air as if it's a geyser and we know what it's like because they blow in our faces and that's also partly what gave us the idea," says Janet Mann, professor of biology and psychology at Georgetown University in Washington.
"You could think of it as analogous to when a human is coughing hard."
Researchers say they are confident the technique can be used in wild populations. Dolphins often like to bow ride at the front of research vessels and so are used to being close to the boats.
"They breathe near our boats anyway so we hope we can get the fluid without stressing them," Mann said.
"If you can get this kind of information without stressing them at all then it's golden."