Saturday, August 05, 2006

Dolphin freed from bathing suit?!

A team of Mote researchers freed a male bottlenose dolphin of material a man's bikini bathing suit that had been caught on the animal's torso for at least 28 days. The dolphin has been seen by the Sarasota Dolphin Research Program since 1998 and is nicknamed Scrappy.

Sarasota Bay is home to approximately 150 resident bottlenose dolphins that have been studied by Mote researchers for more than 36 years and through five generations.

The dolphin was documented in Sarasota Bay on June 29 without the swimsuit, and first spotted with the material lodged on its torso on July 6, during a routine survey of Sarasota Bay dolphins. After monitoring the dolphin and consulting with the federal authorities, the decision was made to intervene. The team removed the clothing on Thursday.

On Thursday, a team of 30 people on five boats participated in the rescue. The team consisted of Mote staff and volunteers, including biologists, veterinarians and experienced animal handlers, and an official from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administrations Fisheries Service. They were able to find the dolphin in southern Sarasota Bay, an area it frequents. The dolphin was brought aboard a veterinary examination vessel, the bathing suit was removed and the team performed an overall health assessment before the dolphin was released.

It appears the dolphin swam through the waist and leg hole of the suit, making it unlikely the clothing would have come off without the team's intervention.

The drag created by the bathing suit inflicted wounds on the front edge of both the animal's pectoral flippers where they attach to the dolphin's body. The wounds were ½ inch deep and ¾ inch long. Mote's Dolphin and Whale Hospital had been prepared to treat the dolphin, but fortunately, the material was removed before the injuries became life threatening or the dolphin needed extensive veterinary care.

Dr. Randall Wells is the manager of the Sarasota Dolphin Research Program and also director of Mote's Center for Marine Mammal and Sea Turtle Research. He says the injury would have become fatal if the researchers not taken action.

"These injuries probably would have become infected, the material would have continued cutting deeper into the dolphins flippers and would have caused the dolphin's death, had we not been able to help him," Wells said.

The dolphin also had some minor shark bite wounds. The veterinarian was able to clean the wounds, administer antibiotics and thinks the wounds will heal well. The dolphin had been seen feeding, but was somewhat underweight.

Wells' team believes that without the hindrance of the bathing suit, the dolphin will be able to feed more successfully. Before being released, the dolphin was also given a tiny radio transmitter tag so Mote researchers can continue to monitor the animal's status. As of Friday afternoon, Scrappy's movements were normal, and staff monitoring the dolphin said it looked to be doing well.

Quick "Facts about Dolphins"