The determination of age is an important step in defining the life history traits of individuals and populations. Age determination of odontocetes is mainly based on counting annual growth layer groups in the teeth. However, this useful method is always invasive, requiring the cutting of at least one tooth, and sometimes the results are difficult to interpret. Based on the concept that bone matrix is constantly deposited throughout life, we analysed the bone mineral density of the arm and forearm of a series of bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus, Montagu 1821) stranded along the Italian coast of the Adriatic Sea or maintained in confined waters. The bone mineral density values we obtained were evaluated as possible age predictors of the Mediterranean population of this species, considering age as determined by counting growth layer groups in sections of the teeth and the total body length of the animal as references. Comparisons between left and right flipper showed no difference. Our results show that bone mineral density values of the thoracic limb are indeed reliable age predictors in Tursiops truncatus. Further investigations in additional odontocete species are necessary to provide strong evidence of the reliability of bone mineral density as an indicator of growth and chronological wear and tear in toothed-whales.
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