What does it take to help a single dolphin entangled in fishing line?
In the recent case of a dolphin calf rescued off the eastern coast of Florida, about two days of effort involving seven boats and 35 people from 12 institutions and organizations.
And that was after four weeks spent finding him and evaluating his situation to see whether it warranted intervention.
With spring approaching, marine experts say it’s a good reminder to look after your belongings when you take to the water. From plastic bags to swimming trunks to crab pots, marine life can get entangled in all manner of human debris.
With limited time and resources, experts can’t save them all.
“You really want to make sure you keep all your hands on your stuff,” said Elizabeth Stratton, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries’ assistant marine mammal stranding coordinator for the southeast region.
“We feel a special responsibility in cases where an animal’s health is in danger because of debris introduced by humans,” said Stratton, who was involved in last week’s rescue.
So where does an intervention begin?
A couple spotted the calf off the coast of Fort Pierce with monofilament line wrapped around his rostrum, or snout. The mammal was riding the wake of their boat. They reported it January 18 to the Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institution, which set out to find the calf and his mother.
The group found the pair and took more pictures, which were sent to the NOAA Fisheries on February 9 for evaluation. The photos revealed monofilament line wrapped around the calf’s upper jaw, cutting into the tissue to the bone, threatening his ability to eat or possibly leading to infection.
Veterinarians who reviewed the photos deemed the injuries potentially life-threatening.
“We can’t disentangle every animal,” Stratton said, “but If it comes back as life-threatening, we mobilize to do disentanglement.”
The next step was to find the creatures again. Through characteristics on the mother’s dorsal fin, the group was able to identify her through records on file and target her home range for a search.
After a two-day search, the group found the dolphins on Friday and approached for intervention.
The process took about an hour, from netting the calf and his mother to sending them on their way, Stratton said. Apart from the fishing line both mother and son were in good condition.
Rescuers gave the calf a long-lasting antibiotic and radio-tagged the mother before releasing them to the ocean “where they belong,” Stratton said.
The moral of the story for humans: “Be conscious of your gear.”
To report an injured marine mammal, call 877-WHALEHELP.