CZS staff members have been involved in several dolphin interventions in the past year. In three cases staff directly participated in the rescue attempt. Two of the cases involved calves that had become entangled in fishing gear, and one was
a dolphin that had become trapped in a shallow lake in the Everglades. All of the rescues involved coordination with several
different agencies including NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC), Mote Marine Laboratory, University of
Florida, Disney’s Animals, Science and the Environment, SeaWorld, Clearwater Marine Aquarium, and Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve. None of the rescues would have been possible without the hard work and dedication of the participants.
In November 2013, a dolphin calf was observed near Lover’s Key State Park entangled in fishing line. The line had wrapped around the calf’s tail stock and was cutting deeply into the insertion of the fluke. The gear had also begun to grow algae and the weight was restricting the dolphin’s movement and hastening the embedding of the line in the dolphin’s tissues. NMFS determined that without intervention, the calf would likely not survive. On November 8th, CZS led a team to try to rescue the dolphin. The mom and calf were quickly located, and once they swam into shallow water, they were encircled in a net so that the team could temporarily restrain and disentangle the calf. The gear and algae removed weighed more than a pound! Both mom and calf were determined to be in good enough health to be released on site, and they swam off
In July 2014, a guide from Speedy’s Airboat Tours in Everglades City came across a dolphin in a rarely visited system of shallow lakes. The dolphin likely entered the system during a period of extreme high tide and rainfall, as there was no water deep enough for the dolphin to get back out into deeper river or bay waters. NMFS determined the dolphin needed assistance to get back into its normal habitat, so CZS staff joined a team including representatives from Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC), Rookery Bay Research Reserve, and Speedy’s to rescue the dolphin. We rode several airboats through a maze of mangrove tunnels to the lake and were able to quickly locate the dolphin, and walk a seine net along the lake in order to restrain it (while dodging an 8 foot-long alligator). That turned out to be the easy part.
The dolphin was loaded onto the front of an airboat, and we started to make our way out of the system of mangrove tunnels. Unfortunately, airboats don’t steer very well when all the weight is in the bow, and they never have reverse. This meant the return trip was a very slow journey bouncing off of mangroves, hand-walking the boat around corners, and trying (unsuccessfully) not to fall from the boat.
After about 2 hours and some very skillful driving, we made it into Chokoloskee Bay, where the dolphin was released with a satellite-linked tag to track his movements. The dolphin, a large adult male, was named Speedy in honor of the tour company that made his rescue possible. Speedy continues to travel from open water back into the marsh islands and creeks, but so far has kept to areas where he can easily return to the bay.
In August 2014, employees from The Dolphin Explorer Eco-Tour near Marco Island reported an 11 month old calf, Skipper, of a well know dolphin mom, Halfway, had been observed entangled in fishing line. Halfway is also the mother of “Seymour,” a dolphin that had to be disentangled in 2012. In an all too familiar situation, line had become wrapped around the tailstock of the calf with several feet of line trailing behind. Because the line was not yet tightly wrapped, and some was trailing behind, NOAA asked CZS staff to try using a long-handled cutting tool to cut the line free while the dolphin was free swimming.
On August 28th, we traveled to Marco Island to attempt to cut Skipper free. With the help of The Dolphin Explorer crew, we located Halfway near Big Marco Pass. We quickly observed that most of the trailing line was now gone, and the wrapped gear had begun to embed into Skipper’s tail. This made remote disentanglement much less likely, but we tried for about 2 hours until Halfway stopped letting our boat approach closely. At the request of NOAA, a team was organized by CZS to try to catch and disentangle Skipper. On September 4th, the CZS team was joined by staff from NMFS, FWC, Mote, University of Florida, SeaWorld, Clearwater Marine Aquarium, and Rookery Bay to attempt a rescue. The Dolphin Explorer crew found Halfway and Skipper near Little Marco Pass. The rest of the team joined them, and followed the dolphins until they swam over a shallow bar. The dolphins were encircled in a net, restrained, and Skipper was quickly cut free. The remaining gear turned out to be a wire leader that was quickly cutting deeply through Skipper’s flesh. Mom and daughter were released on site, and they swam off together quite vigorously. Since then, they have been seen repeatedly in their usual haunts, doing well.
We and our colleagues continue to monitor previously rescued dolphins as possible. Rescued dolphins including Scrappy (2006), FB28 (2007), Ginger (2008), Nellie (2010), Vidalia (2011), and Lizzie (2012) have been observed this year and are all doing well. Lizzie even had a new calf in May!
This article was published on page in the November 2014 issue of Nicks n Notches