Pulmonary disease has been well documented in wild and managed dolphin populations. The marginal lymph nodes of the dolphin thorax provide lymphatic drainage to the lungs and can indicate pulmonary disease. This study standardized a technique for rapid, efficient, and thorough ultrasonographic evaluation of the marginal lymph nodes in bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus). Thoracic ultrasonography was performed on 29 clinically healthy adult bottlenose dolphins. Reference intervals for lymph node dimensions and ultrasonographic characteristics of marginal lymph nodes were determined from four transducer orientations: longitudinal, transverse, oblique, and an orientation optimized to the ultrasonographer's eye. The relationship between lymph node dimensions and dolphin age, sex, length, weight, origin, and management setting (pool versus ocean enclosure) were also evaluated. The mean marginal lymph nodes measured 5.26 cm in length (SD = 1.10 cm, minimum = 3.04 cm, maximum = 7.61 cm, reference interval [10th to 90th percentiles per node dimension] 3.78–6.55 cm) and 3.72 cm in depth (SD = 0.59 cm, minimum = 2.64, maximum = 5.38 cm, reference interval 2.98–4.50 cm). Sex, dolphin length, weight, and management setting had no effect on lymph node dimensions. Dolphins >30 yr of age had longer node lengths than dolphins 5–10 yr old. Node dimensions did differ between dolphins from various origins. Most commonly, the lymph node was found to be hyperechoic relative to surrounding soft tissues (98%) and to have irregular caudal borders (84%), ill-defined deep borders (83%), flat superficial border (67%), triangular or rounded triangle shape (59%), irregular cranial border (55%), and moderate heterogeneity (34%). The data reported in this study serve as a baseline reference that may contribute to earlier detection of pleural and pulmonary disease of managed and wild cetacean populations.
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