Thursday, December 08, 2005

Bottlenose dolphin rescued

A young Atlantic bottlenose dolphin stranded in the Pearl River here for three months following Hurricane Katrina was safely rescued and returned to his saltwater home Nov. 30 in a multi-agency effort initiated by the Navy Fleet Survey Team (FST) at the John C. Stennis Space Center (SSC).The five-foot-long male dolphin that apparently washed upriver from the Gulf of Mexico Aug. 29 was first spotted by Lt. James Coleman of the FST, a subordinate command of the Naval Oceanographic Office at SSC.

Coleman initially found the dolphin while conducting hydrographic surveys up the river in early October. "I began seeing it regularly in the river near Stennis," he said. "Apparently, it had been there since the hurricane."Coleman continued to follow the animal’s whereabouts and contacted the National Oceanographic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Fisheries Service. He then served as the point of contact at SSC for federal agencies involved in the rescue."Lt. Coleman kept a close watch on the displaced dolphin and started the ball rolling for this rescue," said Cmdr. Todd Monroe, commanding officer of the FST.Marine mammal experts from several states traveled to Mississippi to help rescue the dolphin about 10 miles upriver from the Gulf of Mexico.

They included representatives from the Fisheries Service and the National Ocean Service, both NOAA agencies. A 16-member team accomplished the three-hour rescue effort with three boats and a 400-foot net that was spread in the river. Once the dolphin became ensnared in the net, it was rolled onto a Navy boat piloted by Lt. j.g. David Colbert of the FST. Rescuers then gingerly snipped the net off the dolphin and began transport procedures.

The dolphin was wrapped in protective covering, placed on a foam mattress in a van and successfully released into the Mississippi Sound at Gulfport Harbor.Blair Mase, southeast regional marine mammal stranding coordinator for NOAA Fisheries Service, said dolphins can only tolerate fresh water for a limited period. "It was imperative that we rescue this dolphin and return it to its natural habitat," Mase said.The dolphin had suffered skin lesions after being out of its natural saltwater habitat for an extended period.

Had it remained in fresh water much longer, the lesions and eye problems could have endangered its life, experts said."Aside from the lesions, he appears in good health," said Forrest Townsend, a marine mammal veterinarian who participated in the rescue. "The FST’s normal duties include deploying worldwide to conduct shallow-water surveys supporting Department of Defense warfighters," Monroe said, "but we were happy to be of assistance with the rescue. Like many of us on the Gulf Coast, our dolphin is recovering from Hurricane Katrina and is moving forward."

Quick "Facts about Dolphins"