On April 7th, during a monthly photo-ID survey, we received a call from the Mote Marine Laboratory Stranding Investigations Program that there might be a mass stranding occurring near Venice Inlet. We were close, so we headed down to find Mote staff and the Venice lifeguards doing what they could to keep a group of 9-10 pygmy killer whales from beaching themselves. They seemed to be able to keep the animals off the beach and the pygmy killer whales appeared to be in good body condition, so we decided to use boats from SDRP, Mote, FWC, and the Venice Police Department to try to herd them back offshore. We kept 2 boats behind the group to drive them, and one on each side of the group to direct them, and we were able to guide them slowly offshore. We left the group continuing to head west, about 11 miles off the coast. They were not reported stranded or close to shore again, so there is a good chance they were able to find their way back to deep water, where they are usually found.
On 17 September 2015, MM72, a dolphin known by SDRP staff since 1988, stranded on a mud flat in Tampa Bay. He was rescued by FWC and Clearwater Marine Aquarium, and transported to Mote Marine Laboratory for treatment. SDRP staff members assisted with the rehabilitation of MM72, nicknamed “Feeny.” Unfortunately, the conditions from which Feeny suffered could not be successfully treated, and he died within several weeks of arriving at Mote.
On 6 October 2015, boaters near Clearwater, Florida reported a dolphin calf with a plastic packing strap wrapped around its head and chest. NOAA officials determined that the entanglement was a threat to the calf’s life, so a rescue was planned. On 15 October, SDRP staff led the rescue effort that included members from Clearwater Marine Aquarium, NOAA Fisheries, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, Sea World, Mote Marine Lab, and the University of Florida. The team was able to catch the calf, remove the strap and associated fishing lines, and tag it for follow-up monitoring. The calf was quickly released and was seen swimming away next to its mother. They were seen again five days later, doing well (see photo on right). Clearwater Marine Aquarium staff will keep track of the calf over the coming months.
The SDRP has rescued many dolphins over the years. These rescues vary from remote disentanglement of fishing line, to treatment and release in the field, to transport for rehabilitation at Mote’s dolphin and whale hospital. An important part of any intervention is post-release monitoring in order to learn what works and what does not in each situation. This information has been vital to managers when creating guidelines for rehabilitation and release, and for focusing limited resources. Previously rescued dolphins: Skipper (2014), 1231 (2014), Lizzie (2013), Vidalia (2011), Nellie (2010), Ginger (2008), FB28 (2007), and Scrappy (2006) were all observed in 2015, although FB28 died in October. Ginger was even recently seen with a newborn calf, believed to be her first, which is a big milestone indicating long-term success as she contributes to the next generation in Sarasota Bay!
This article appeared on page 27 in the December 2015 issue of Nicks n Notches.