GULFPORT — The young bottlenose dolphin rescued from Gulf Shores, Ala., after apparently being beached by Tropical Storm Ida on Nov. 10 is in stable, but not wonderful, condition at the Institute for Marine Mammal Studies in Gulfport.
Now in its third week of treatment, the dolphin is being held in standard 30-day quarantine to protect it from new germs. Staff and visitors to his climate-controlled tank enclosure first dip the soles of their shoes into a shallow basin of disinfectant.
A bond that is essential to his progress is developing between the animal and the trainer, said Moby Solangi, institute president. He speculates the calf either lost his mother or got separated from his pod during Ida. He was found about 150 yards from the shoreline, likely dumped there by a big wave. WILLIAM COLGIN/SUN HERALD Shannon Huyser offers a herring to a young calf male dolphin that was found stranded in Gulf Shores, Al. The animal is being nursed back to health at the Institute for Marine Mammal Studies in Gulfport.
The dolphin is stable and adjusting, Solangi said.
“We still have some issues with his health,” he said. “He’s has gastrointestinal problems and a mild case of pneumonia. He was almost dead, laying on the beach in the sun. For him to recover in three weeks is remarkable.”
“Ultimately, if he can be put back in his group, that’s ideal. The difficulty is that he is young and has been sick. Would he be able to survive?”
Another concern is that because of the storm, his pod may be far away.
The decision about releasing him will be made by the National Marine Fisheries Service.
It’s been only a week since the dolphin began accepting food from human hands. Before that, he was fed with a tube that required divers to get in the water and hold the tube in his mouth. Last week he swam lazily over to animal-care specialist Shannon Huyer and gently took a frozen fish about 10 inches long out of her hand, then swam away again — repeatedly. Three times a day, he is hand-fed frozen herring and consumes about 3¼ pounds each meal. Solangi said he is about 2 years old, 6 feet, 4 inches long and 190 pounds.
Institute staffers said he shows curiosity and plays with his toys, which include a green plastic baseball bat that floats around his pool.
The dolphin arrived here under emergency conditions after walkers spotted him struggling on the beach in Gulf Shores. The Marine Mammal Stranding Network was contacted and in turn called the institute, which sent a team to rescue the dolphin and bring him to Gulfport.
In another pool enclosure at the institute, a Kemp’s Ridley sea turtle, half-blind and very weak, is being cared for. It was picked up on the beach two weeks ago after a call from the Department of Marine Resources. It is among only a few hundred left, Solangi said. It breeds in Mexico, comes here to feed, then goes back to Mexico and lays its eggs. Poachers there take the eggs, which can be sold for $50 each, Solangi said.
“They get caught in fish nets. That’s why we have turtle exclusion devices, so if they caught, they can be released.”
By Pam Firmin