A multi-agency team of 51 individuals, including veterinarians, biologists, stranding responders, trained handlers, and law enforcement officers, came together in Sarasota Bay, Fla, on 21 February to successfully catch, treat, and release a two-year-old female bottlenose dolphin calf with fishing lines cutting deeply into her tail flukes. The nearly ten feet of braided lines, which had accumulated an extensive amount of barnacles, algae, and other biofouling, were trailing behind the calf, creating drag. The entanglement pulled the lines deeper into the calf, preventing regular swimming and activities.
The calf was first sighted in early January by a tour boat operator. At that time, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) National Marine Fisheries Service granted permission to the Mote Marine Laboratory in Sarasota, Fla.’s Stranding Investigations Program and its designee, the Chicago Zoological Society’s Sarasota Dolphin Research Program (SDRP) to attempt a remote disentanglement. Several days after the initial sighting, SDRP staff were able to remove two-thirds of the line from the calf.
When spotted again, several weeks later, more biofouling had accumulated on the fishing gear. After assessing the calf’s life-threatening situation, NOAA approved a catch-and-release rescue to remove the remaining line.
In addition to removing the fishing line and debris from the calf, both animals were examined, measured, sampled for blood, and monitored for heart rate and respiration. The calf was additionally administered an antibiotic to help prevent infection, and the mother was fitted with a satellite-linked tag so that biologists could continue monitoring the calf’s healing progress. They were released within less than an hour of their rescue.
“It is highly likely that without any intervention, the calf would not have survived,” said Dr. Randy Wells, vice president of marine mammal conservation for the Chicago Zoological Society in Chicago, Ill., and director of the Sarasota Dolphin Research Program. “The success of this catch-and-release rescue was possible due to the dedication and expertise of each and every individual who participated.”
Although the fishing line removal was successful, the embedded gear caused extensive damage and significant long-term disfiguration to the calf’s flukes. Biologists hope that, in time, the young marine mammal will be able to make more and better use of its flukes.
Over the years, Sarasota Dolphin Research Program’s staff and its partners have aided dozens of bottlenose dolphins who have suffered entanglements. Other injuries and deaths from human-related causes include boat and propeller strikes, illegal feeding of wild dolphins, and environmental contaminants.
“When sharing the same space with dolphins and other marine wildlife, it is important to know the best practices for keeping them safe while continuing to enjoy our marine environment,” said Wells. “These include not feeding the animals, reeling in fishing line if a dolphin is nearby, disposing of trash properly, using corrodible fishing hooks, and staying at least 50 yards away from wild dolphins.”
The Chicago Zoological Society’s SDRP led the rescue effort in collaboration with Mote Marine Laboratory’s Stranding Investigations Program and partners that included Clearwater Marine Aquarium in Clearwater, Fla.; Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s Marine Mammal Pathobiology Laboratory in St. Petersburg, Fla.; Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s Southwest Field Lab in Port Charlotte, Fla.; Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission Law Enforcement, Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institution/FAU in Fort Pierce, Fla.; Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium Animal Hospital; Sarasota Police Department, SeaWorld of Florida in Orlando, Fla.; and University of Florida College of Veterinary Medicine in Gainesville, Fla.
Photos Credit: ©: Chicago Zoological Society’s Sarasota Dolphin Research Program
Edited by Sarah Gilsoul, a writer and Communications Program Assistant at AZA
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