Sep 09

SeaWorld Orlando Rescue Team Assists other Agencies to Save Dolphin Calf

Last week, the SeaWorld Animal Care Team was busier than usual - rescuing five injured animals in 74 hours. One of these animals was an 11-month-old female bottlenose dolphin calf, found in Little Marco Pass in Collier County, Fla., tangled in some fishing gear. Thanks to the collaborative efforts of 10 agencies, including SeaWorld Orlando, this dolphin is now swimming free. If the fishing line had stayed on much longer, the dolphin could have lost its tale.

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 in August. After the dolphin was spotted several times over several weeks still entangled in fishing gear, NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) — which oversees the protection of marine mammals in the U.S. — asked the Sarasota Dolphin Research Program (SDRP), a partnership between Mote Marine Laboratory and the Chicago Zoological Society, to try to free the dolphin of the gear.

An initial effort by SDRP and Mote to remove the gear with a long-handled disentanglement tool on Aug. 28 was not successful. NMFS and SDRP then contacted members of the Southeast Regional Marine Mammal Stranding Network to help with a rescue. The team included Florida’s Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) and FWC Law Enforcement, NMFS, SeaWorld Orlando, the Chicago Zoological Society, Mote Marine Laboratory, Clearwater Marine Aquarium, University of Florida, the Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve and 10,000 Islands Dolphin Project.

Early on Thursday, Sept. 4, 2014, a team of 39 people and six boats gathered at the Collier Boulevard boat ramp near Marco Island to join members of the 10,000 Islands Dolphin Project and a team from Clearwater Marine Aquarium in the ocean who had already spotted the calf and her mother, Halfway.

Once in the water with the calf, veterinarians found that about a foot of metal fishing leader, probably from a trolling rig, was wrapped around the base of Skipper’s tail peduncle and flukes. Left unchecked, the stiff metal wire would have cut deeper into the dolphin and eventually severed her tail.

Skipper is the 396th animal that SeaWorld Orlando has helped to rescue this year alone. Within hours of Skipper's rescue, the SeaWorld Animal Rescue Team also helped, four other animals – two sandhill cranes, a loggerhead turtle, and a green sea turtle. In addition to responding to stranded dolphins and sea turtles, SeaWorld Orlando’s Animal Rescue Team also supports FWC’s response to stranded manatees throughout the state of Florida and anywhere requested by the USFWS.

So far in 2014, SeaWorld Orlando’s Animal Rescue Team has responded to 13 marine mammals, including dolphins and manatees, and 34 sea turtles. In collaboration with the government and other members of accredited stranding networks, SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment operates one of the world’s most respected programs to rescue ill and injured marine animals, with the goal to rehabilitate and return to the ocean. SeaWorld animal experts have helped more than 23,000 animals in need - ill, injured, orphaned and abandoned - for more than four decades.

Learn how you can help keep wild dolphins and other animals safe: