Friday, March 30, 2007

Risso dolphin's carcass found on California beach

A dead marine mammal experts identified as a Risso's dolphin was found on Ormond Beach near Oxnard on Thursday morning.

Discovered on the sand just east of the Reliant Energy plant by a member of the Ormond Beach Observers Wildlife Patrol, the dolphin, about 11 feet long, had several deep holes in its flesh and skin dried to a pale yellow hue.

One wound near the animal's tail is very deep.

Based on the location of that gash, it looks like a shark may have bitten the dolphin, possibly as it floated dead in the water, said Michelle Berman, assistant curator for the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History, which tracks incidents of stranded marine mammals from San Luis Obispo County to Ventura County.

Berman identified the large mammal as a Risso's dolphin after reviewing digital photos provided by the Ventura County Star.

Risso's dolphins, which can grow to about 12 feet and weigh up to 1,100 pounds, are one of the larger members of the dolphin family, according to the American Cetacean Society.

They are fairly common, but because they normally live offshore, they are rarely seen on the coast.
In an average year, one dead Risso's dolphin shows up on the local coastline, Berman said.
About 23 dolphins and two whales are found stranded between San Luis Obispo County and Ventura County each year, she said.

When a dead cetacean is reported to the Santa Barbara museum, officials try to determine the cause and circumstances of its death.

If the carcass is fresh, officials may take skin samples or bits of the animal's blubber for toxicology tests, Berman said.

However, since this dolphin in already in an advanced state of decomposition, there is little chance that scientists will be able to determine how it died, she said.

It was not clear Thursday what would be done with the body.

Quick "Facts about Dolphins"