By Katie McHugh, PhD, Chicago Zoological Society
During our February 2010 population monitoring surveys, SDRP staff observed the 9-month-old, seventh calf of a well-known Sarasota Bay resident, FB25, with something entangled around its head. Although the calf was in good condition and behaving normally, examination of photos from that encounter as well as subsequent sightings over the next few days showed both that a white plastic material had become tightly wrapped around her head and knotted near the front of her right pectoral fin and that the plastic was beginning to cause deep abrasions. Because of the potential for this type of entanglement to severely injure or kill the dolphin over time, the NOAA Fisheries Service gave SDRP the go ahead to attempt a rescue operation to cut the material off of the animal.
Rescue efforts were mobilized quickly, and with the help of staff from Mote, CZS, NOAA Fisheries Service, and Disney’s Animal Programs, we made two attempts to locate and disentangle the calf at the end of February and beginning of March. On the first attempt, the team was able to locate the animal in a group heading into deep, rough waters in the Gulf of Mexico. Although we waited for several hours for them to come back towards calmer waters, unfortunately we had no such luck that day and decided to make a second rescue attempt the following week.
On 1 March 2010, the team tried again and was able to quickly locate and capture the calf and her mother as well as her older sibling together in the calm, shallow waters of Little Sarasota Bay. The plastic line was removed, the calf was briefly examined by a veterinarian, and she was given a small tag to aid in identification before all three dolphins were released on site a few minutes later. The calf (formerly C257) was reserved the number FB221 and nicknamed “Nellie” in honor of Dr. Nélio Barros, a colleague who recently passed away.
Since her rescue, Nellie and her mother have been seen 17 times during our monthly population monitoring surveys. Fortunately, she healed very quickly and has been observed behaving just as any healthy dolphin calf should, often socializing with other young dolphins. She was most recently seen on 3 November 2010 in a large group of mothers, calves, and older siblings, which also included Ginger, another young Sarasota Bay resident dolphin who was successfully rehabilitated and released last year (see the next story for an update).
All photos © Sarasota Dolphin Research Program under NMFS permit #522-1785