Saturday, April 28, 2007

Life saved by an angel on the beach

Most people who walk along a beach consider themselves fortunate if they find a seashell, a piece of driftwood or a cool-looking rock. Amanda Mann found a dolphin.

On March 24, Amanda, who is 25, was visiting Florida with her mother, Debbie Lopez, and her aunt Alma Nerone, both of Springfield, and her great-aunt Rita Jones, who lives in Girard. They took a boat excursion to Egmont Key, which is at the mouth of Tampa Bay. As Amanda was walking along the shore of Egmont Key, she spotted the dolphin lying on the beach.

"I thought it was a dead dolphin," she says, "but I looked at it and noticed it was breathing. Its blowhole was opening up. I said, 'Well, I think it's hurt and needs help.'"

Amanda and Alma decided to see what they could do. The dolphin was on its side. They rolled it to its stomach, but it kept flipping itself on its side.

Soon another tourist came and, after taking pictures, offered to help. The group made some cell phone calls from the beach, including one to 911. They were transferred to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Egmont Key is mostly a wildlife refuge managed by that federal agency, along with the state and the Coast Guard.

A staffer from Fish and Wildlife said someone would come out to lend assistance. The agency also contacted a marine biologist, who got on the phone to give Amanda some suggestions.
"The biologist said to get some towels wet and put them on the dolphin, because they can get sunburned easily," Amanda says. "He wanted us to keep her blowhole clear. We did that for about forever and held her.

"She didn't thrash too much. Just at first. But, later, I think she knew we were trying to help her. Before we put those wet towels on her, she was making noises, like whimpering. After we put the towels on her, she didn't do that anymore."

A couple of hours went by, but nobody with any dolphin expertise had arrived. An official from the state park did get there. He joined in rescue efforts, including making more phone calls for help. The staff from Clearwater Marine Aquarium agreed to send a crew to pick up the sick dolphin.
A few hours after she first saw the beached dolphin, Amanda and her family had to catch the boat back to shore.

"I was so mad," Amanda says, "because we had to leave the dolphin. I asked the park ranger or whatever he was, 'Can I have your phone number, or is there some way I can get ahold of you to find out what happens?' He gave me his card."

The next day, Amanda called him. She found out that her dolphin had eventually been taken to Mote Marine Laboratory in Sarasota for treatment. Mote has a Dolphin and Whale Hospital in which it cares for stranded dolphins and whales.

A couple of days later, it was nearing time for Amanda to return to Springfield. But first, she called Mote Marine Laboratory.

"I was nervous because I was afraid they'd say she didn't make it," Amanda says.

But the dolphin did make it. Before leaving Florida, Amanda and her family went to Mote see her.
"A doctor, or veterinarian or whatever they are called, came out and took us back to her," Amanda says. "She was isolated in a tank. They said she had pneumonia and had eaten some (marine) sponges, which isn't good for them.

"Usually, they said, baby dolphins stay with their mother for three to five years. This one was only 18 months old. Her mom either abandoned her or she got sick and then her mom abandoned her. She beached herself to die."

But she didn't die.

"It was so neat," Amanda says. "We took pictures, and she was swimming in her little tank. It was great to know."

Doctors eventually operated twice on the dolphin, which they named Dancer, to remove sponges. Mote has a Web site on which it has posted updates on Dancer, along with a picture of her in her tank. Amanda and her family have been able to track Dancer's progress on the Web site from Springfield. The last entry says the dolphin is continuing to improve.

Dancer may or may not be released back into the Gulf of Mexico. If not, it will most likely end up at a Florida aquarium. Either way is fine with Amanda. She is just happy Dancer survived.

"I didn't know if she was going to die or not," Amanda says. "But I had to do something."

Everybody has a story. The problem is that some of them are boring. If yours is not, contact Dave Bakke at 788-1541 or

Quick "Facts about Dolphins"