Saturday, February 11, 2006

Sad ending for young calf

Marine mammal biologists don't know why a baby Atlantic bottle-nosed dolphin died and washed up to Marineland's shore Wednesday afternoon, but they said beached dolphin sightings are not uncommon in Northeast Florida.

From Volusia County to Nassau County, about 20 stranded marine animals are sighted along the beaches every year, and most are dolphins, said Artie Wong of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

"Larger populations have a lot to do with it," commission biologist Andy Garrett said.

The commission received a call about the animal after Gamble Rogers Middle School pupils and teachers spotted the carcass during a field trip.

The biologists, based in Jacksonville, transported the roughly yard-long mammal by pickup to the College of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Florida in Gainesville. There, veterinarians will try to determine the cause of death and see if the body is salvageable to use in student research, Wong said.

Garrett said he did not see any outer damage to the dolphin to suggest an assault by another sea creature, and he could tell the animal was recently born because its belly button was still raw and its teeth were not yet developed.

Younger animals face many obstacles to survival, he said.

"They're preyed upon by sharks. If the bond between mother and baby isn't strong enough, the baby can get lost. There are infant traumas related to birthing," he said, adding, "a lot (of cases) are undetermined."

Quick "Facts about Dolphins"