Friday, September 08, 2006

Baby dolphin in need of new tail

Just 10 months ago, a bottlenose dolphin called Winter was rescued from a crab trap line.
Because of her entrapment, the dolphin lost her tail.

And she, along with the staff at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium, are looking for donors to help her get a new one.

"We're not exactly sure how she got stuck in (the trap), but when she was found, she was all by herself. Her mother was not with her, and the line was stuck around her like a rubber band where it cuts off all your circulation. By the time she came to us, her whole tale was white and a lot of the tissue had died. We were left with a 2-month-old baby with absolutely no tail," said animal care director Diane Mitchell.

Nine months later, Winter has made a full recovery and is learning to swim and even play without the use of her tail.

"Instead of swimming up and down, she actually swims like a shark from side to side because that's where she gets the most momentum from," said Mitchell.

Unable to swim quickly or jump out of the water like other dolphins, doctors worry her unusual movement could cause back problems later on or even shorten her life.

So, scientists are looking for a way to build an artificial tail prosthesis -- like the one made for a Japanese dolphin named Fuji back in 2004.

"There have only been two others in the world to develop a prosthetic tale, and there is no other case like Winter because those other dolphins all had part of a tail," said Mitchell.

The artificial tail could cost up to $100,000 to make, and because she's just a baby, Winter would likely need three or four new ones made throughout her lifetime.

The aquarium is looking for donors to help pay the bill, creating a happy ending to an otherwise very sad tale.

Quick "Facts about Dolphins"