(May 24, 2012) –
Georgia Aquarium Conservation Field Station (GACFS) worked alongside National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) to respond to two dolphin strandings in the Intracoastal Waterway (ICW) near St. Augustine, Florida over the last two weeks.
Matt Denny, field coordinator for GACFS, responded to the call on May 10 and worked alongside a Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) Law Enforcement Officer to reach the animal in need. Upon arriving onsite, the animal was beached on the west side of the ICW on an oyster bed. Denny then recruited the help of two local fishermen and their flat bottom boat to reach the animal through shallow water, which couldn’t be reached by the FWC’s vessel. Once Denny reached the dolphin, he was able to identify it as an adult male Atlantic bottlenose dolphin.
After assessing the animal, it appeared to be in good body condition, was alert and responsive with minimal cuts from the oysters. Denny consulted with NMFS, and the decision was made to release the dolphin back to the ICW. The team, led by Denny, worked together to rig a makeshift sling and loaded the animal carefully into the vessel. They then ferried the animal back to a deep-water boat ramp where they successfully released the dolphin. As night continued to fall, Denny and the FWC officer slowly followed the animal north keeping a careful eye on his progress. GACFS and FWC will continue to monitor the area in case the dolphin re-strands. It is important to clarify that only trained professionals are authorized to work with stranded marine mammals.
On May 17, while conducting a photo identification survey of dolphins, Denny, along with George Biedenbach, director of conservation and programs for GACFS, sighted an Atlantic bottlenose dolphin carcass beached along the bank of the ICW. Upon approaching the animal, it became apparent to Denny and Biedenbach that the animal was in a state of moderate to advanced decomposition. After consulting with NOAA, the decision was made to secure the carcass, and FWC dispatch was notified of the stranding event and the intention to perform a field necropsy. Upon examination, it was determined that this animal was smaller and younger than the stranding from earlier in the week, so it was not the same animal. The field necropsy was then performed by Denny, Biedenbach and assisted by Jim Morse, a volunteer responder from GACFS.
“GACFS is authorized by NOAA Fisheries as a member of the National Marine Mammal Stranding Network that responds to sick, injured or deceased marine mammals in Northeast Florida. Along with network neighbors to the north and south, GACFS gathers data from marine mammal stranding events, which help scientists better understand the health status and natural or human pressures that affect small whales and dolphins,” said Biedenbach. “Through continued support of the Conservation Field Station, Georgia Aquarium inspires stewardship in conservation, research and the appreciation for the animal world”.
For information on Georgia Aquarium Conservation Field Station and how you can support animal conservation and research, please visit www.dolphinfieldstation.org. If you come upon a stranded or injured dolphin, please call the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission at 1-888-404-FWCC(3922).
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