Saturday, May 27, 2006

Stranded dolphin doesn't survive!

He was the biggest dolphin several marine-mammal specialists had ever seen.

That size and his age are believed to be part of the reason the dolphin, close to 11 feet and 560 pounds, stranded himself in shallow water off Belle Fontaine Beach at St. Andrews this week.
Residents of the area and passers-by were the first responders when they saw him in the shallow water Monday afternoon. They called a series of state and federal marine agencies and specialists, who all came. Then the dolphin-rescue team with the Institute for Marine Mammal Studies arrived about 7 p.m.

By 9:30 p.m., he was loaded into the dolphin ambulance and was on his way to a pool in north Gulfport for observation. But he had a bad night and by midday Tuesday, it was decided he wouldn't make it.

Gesa Capers, a microbiologist-turned-high-school-science-teacher who lives on Belle Fontaine Beach, said she first saw the dolphin from a window in her FEMA trailer at 2:30 p.m. Monday.
"I looked out and saw a fin and half a dolphin sticking out of the water," Capers said. "I text-messaged a friend and said, 'It looks dead. I'm going to check it out.'"

"He said, 'Be careful. Something might be feeding on it,'" she said.

She changed into her shorts and waded the 20 to 30 feet off shore. Others gathered, some just wanting to help and some from agencies well-versed on the subject.

They all decided to move him to deeper water, Capers said. "I was afraid he would get sunburned. We put our arms under him to move him. He was so heavy. I touched him all over searching for injuries, but found none.

"He was obviously stressed. He didn't try to get away. He was a beautiful animal, so big."
She and others hoped he would heal and be released.

"He was so gentle. He knew we were trying to help him," said Doris Rodriguez, one of the passers-by who stopped to help. "They interact with you."

But Tim Hoffland, with IMMS, said the dolphin was at the end of a long life.

"His teeth were worn down," Hoffland said. "He was having trouble breathing, and he was listing to one side. We kept him here (at the pool) all night long in a flotation device to keep him upright, because he kept rolling over. In the morning, we decided it would be best to euthanize him."
Hoffland estimated his age at 25, old for a wild dolphin, and he said LSU would do post-mortem studies.

Though the dolphin didn't make it, he did bring people together. Capers said the dolphin was the first live dolphin in trouble she had seen on the beach in the seven years she has lived there.

"We stayed with him for hours," she said. "We didn't know each other before that. I had never seen some of them before."

Want to help?

Doris Rodriguez would like to form a group for residents interested in helping with any future dolphin-stranding in South Jackson County. Details: (228) 327-3833

Quick "Facts about Dolphins"