An 11-month-old female bottlenose dolphin calf is swimming free of fishing gear that could have severed her tail.
The dolphin, a dependent calf nicknamed Skipper, was first spotted by members of the 10,000 Islands Dolphin Project, who documented the entanglement and reported it to state and federal authorities.
At the request of National Marine Fisheries Service, a team of more than 30 people and six boats was organized to mount a life-saving rescue in Little Marco Pass, about 130 miles south of Sarasota.
The rescue effort involved setting a net to encircle the mom and calf. The net corral was then moved to shallower water where team members entered the water around the net to restrain both dolphins so they could be examined by veterinarians.
The veterinarians found about a foot of metal fishing leader remaining from the original entanglement (10-15 ft of line was trailing at first report), probably from a trolling rig, wrapped around and embedded in the base of Skipper’s tail and her left fluke. Left unchecked, the stiff metal wire would have cut deeper into the tissue. This eventually would have led to infection, finally severed her tail, and caused her death.
Ten groups, all members of the Southeast Regional Marine Mammal Stranding Network, collaborated to help with the rescue. On short notice, Randy Wells, Director of the Sarasota Dolphin Research Program (SDRP), coordinated recruitment of experienced rescuers and boats and led the rescue effort. In addition to staff and boats from the SDRP, the rescue team included volunteers and staff from Florida’s Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) and FWC Law Enforcement, Mote Marine Laboratory, SeaWorld, Clearwater Marine Aquarium, University of Florida, the Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve, and 10,000 Islands Dolphin Project.
“This was a great team effort for a successful dolphin calf disentanglement,” said Denise Boyd, FWC research associate, who coordinates stranding response in Florida’s Charlotte, Lee and Collier counties.
This and other marine mammal rescues are possible thanks in part to grants awarded to the Chicago Zoological Society and Mote Marine Laboratory from the National Marine Fisheries Service’s John H. Prescott Marine Mammal Rescue Assistance Grant Program.