- A baby dolphin, rescued on July 20th after life-threatening injuries sustained from entanglement in crab trap lines is in critical, but stable condition and continues to improve after 24x7 intensive care at SeaWorld for nearly nine weeks
- Because the dolphin lacks critical skills needed to survive on his own due to his young age and size at rescue, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) determines he is non-releasable
- SeaWorld’s ability to meet and exceed the dolphin’s unique social and medical needs a major factor in NOAA’s placement decision
SeaWorld Orlando has announced that a neonatal dolphin rescued from Clearwater Beach in Florida in July will remain in its care after the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) determined he cannot survive on his own due to his lack of survival skills stemming from his young age and size at the time of the lifesaving rescue. NOAA placed the dolphin with SeaWorld for long term care because of its ability to meet and exceed the dolphin’s unique social and medical needs required for him to thrive.
“We have nearly 60 years of experience in the care and study of dolphins at every age and throughout their entire lifespan, from birth to geriatric care, and that knowledge and expertise is what makes extraordinary recoveries like these possible,” said Jon Peterson, VP of Zoological Operations at SeaWorld Orlando. “We are very grateful to the lifeguards who first spotted this little guy struggling in the water under the pier and called authorities for help. We are equally grateful for our partners in the Southeast Stranding Network that handled the rescue and delivered him into our care. While he still has a long road to full recovery, we’re proud of the great progress he has made so far.”
“Caring for rescued dolphins long-term requires a great deal of commitment from experienced and dedicated professionals,” said Erin Fougères, Marine Mammal Stranding Program Administrator at NOAA Fisheries Southeast. “We’re grateful for the ongoing support of organisations like SeaWorld and other members of the Southeast Region Marine Mammal Stranding Network, without whom these stories of rescue and survival would not be possible.”
Baby Dolphin Remains in Critical, but Stable Condition as His Prognosis Continues to Improve
The dolphin’s age was estimated at two months or less when he was found struggling and tangled in the remnants of trap lines on July 20th, 2022.
Once freed from the entanglement by members of the Southeast Stranding Network, they attempted to release the dolphin back into open water to reconnect with his mother who did not return. Unfortunately, the dolphin was unable to swim on his own and, after consulting with NOAA, it was decided that the dolphin required off-site rehabilitation.
Considered a neonate, the rescued bottlenose weighed just around 57 pounds (mature adults weigh in at more than 300 pounds) with no erupted teeth and was still nursing. Though breathing on his own upon arrival at SeaWorld, he was unresponsive and in a coma. He was immediately moved into intensive care and less than 30 minutes later SeaWorld’s on-site laboratory and veterinary team diagnosed the cause of his catatonic state, isolating his critical condition to a life-threatening electrolyte imbalance, pneumonia, and serious injuries to his fins from prolonged lack of blood flow due to the restrictive lines in which he had become entangled.
The veterinary and animal care specialist teams worked around the clock, providing hour-by-hour critical medical care, adjusting water salinity and walking with him in the pool supporting his weight until he regained the strength to swim on his own. He learned to take a bottle for feedings of special neonatal dolphin formula developed by SeaWorld. The dolphin has been receiving this specialised care from SeaWorld veterinary staff for nearly nine weeks. He continues to progress in his physical recovery, recovering from his respiratory illness and undergoing medical procedures to remove necrotic tissue resulting from his injuries. He has gained more than 10 pounds since his arrival.
Dolphin Rehabilitation is an Intricate and Complex Process
Rehabilitation and medical treatments are highly specialised and challenging due to a variety of factors including logistics, physiology, and anatomy. The experience gained by providing care to such a diverse set of species, critical care to rescued animals, and specialised care to neonatal and geriatric cases as is typical in a zoological setting like SeaWorld, provides insight and knowledge into overall animal health and wellness needs that cannot be replicated by the study of animals outside of human care alone.
Compared to other species, dolphin rehabilitation is extremely challenging due to the fragile nature of dolphin health and the high mortality rates dolphins face when ill or injured. The first two weeks of dolphin rehabilitation are critical and are usually indicative of the dolphin’s prognosis. Through years of extensive research and experience, SeaWorld has revitalised the dolphin intake process and developed a unique dolphin care system that involves conducting medical tests and procedures immediately upon intake, substantially increasing survival rates among rescued dolphins. SeaWorld animal care experts discovered that by using minimal assistance techniques and encouraging dolphins to use their own muscle mass, it helps dolphins build strength and results in increased rates of successful rehabilitation. Through this process, SeaWorld veterinarians and animal care experts were able to help the dolphin begin to swim on his own and learn to suckle from a bottle relatively quickly.
Once he makes a full physical recovery and reaches an ideal weight, the dolphin will move from his critical care pool where he is monitored 24x7 to join a pod of dolphins in residence in the SeaWorld Orlando Park with whom he is combatable. Assimilating into a social group will help him acquire interpersonal skills and provide the interactions he needs to thrive. When he has settled into his new pod, the public will be invited to come and see him in the park.
SeaWorld's goal is always to return rescued animals to their natural environments. However, certain health conditions can make survival without human care unlikely or impossible. In those instances, wildlife authorities determine whether an animal can be returned and if not, accredited zoos and aquariums, like SeaWorld provide long term care and permanent homes for those in need.
This dolphin’s situation, while tragic, is not an isolated incident and serves as an important reminder of the dangers that ‘ghost fishing’ poses to marine animal life. Fishing nets, traps, long lines, ropes and other gear lost or abandoned in the ocean trap and kill thousands of marine animals every year. It is essential that the public does their part to maintain clean and safe waters – free of debris, trash and fishing equipment – to keep marine wildlife safe and healthy.
About SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment
SeaWorld Parks and Entertainment is a leading theme park and entertainment company providing experiences that matter, and inspiring guests to protect animals and the wild wonders of our world. The Company is one of the world’s foremost zoological organizations and a global leader in animal welfare, training, husbandry, and veterinary care. The Company collectively cares for what it believes is one of the largest zoological collections in the world and has helped lead advances in the care of animals. The Company also rescues and rehabilitates marine and terrestrial animals that are ill, injured, orphaned, or abandoned, with the goal of returning them to the wild. The SeaWorld® rescue team has helped more than 40,000 animals in need over the Company’s history. SeaWorld Entertainment, Inc. owns or licenses a portfolio of recognized brands including SeaWorld®, Busch Gardens®, Aquatica®, Sesame Place® and Sea Rescue®. Over its more than 60-year history, the Company has built a diversified portfolio of 12 destination and regional theme parks that are grouped in key markets across the United States, many of which showcase its one-of-a-kind zoological collection. The Company’s theme parks feature a diverse array of rides, shows and other attractions with broad demographic appeal which deliver memorable experiences and a strong value proposition for its guests.