The spring issue of Fins & Flukes is here! Read about our Marine Mammal Stranding Team’s work last year and our plans for the future. As of today we’ve already responded to six dolphins and whales in 2017.
Our Research Scientist Wendy Noke Durden recently published abundance estimates and trends from nearly a decade of aerial surveys of Indian River Lagoon bottlenose dolphins. The information we gather monitors the effects of ecological disturbances, unusual mortality events, and human impacts on this key species. We found that abundance estimates increased during extremely cold winter events and that the average abundance was 1,000 Indian River Lagoon dolphins. As always, further investigation is needed to conserve this important dolphin population.
Yesterday we helped lead a multi-agency rescue of an entangled bottlenose dolphin calf in the Indian River Lagoon. The calf was badly entangled with fishing line embedded in her tail – we’d been following the calf and planning a rescue since she was first seen earlier this month. We’ll monitor the calf and her mother over the next few weeks to make sure they continue to do well. We encourage everyone to help clean up waters ways by recycling fishing line and reporting injured animals to the proper agency.
It’s taken some time for our team to assess the extent of the damage done by #HurricaneMatthew to our Florida headquarters. The buildings were battered by 105 mph winds and the storm surge from the Indian River Lagoon (IRL) caused further damage, including nearly a foot of standing water, mud, and debris in the building during the weekend after the hurricane.
Despite the destruction, our staff’s resolve to respond to dolphins and whales in distress never wavered. While assisting 24/7 at the site with assessment and clean-up, they’ve also responded to 10 strandings in the past three weeks – one of which occurred only two days after the hurricane.
Restoration work has begun, but our out-of-pocket costs will exceed $200,000: $85,000 is needed for immediate repairs. We need your help! Please consider a generous gift to help our marine mammal stranding team and faithful volunteers restore their lab on the IRL!
By Maj. Cathleen Snow, 920th Rescue Wing Public Affairs / Published October 18, 2016
PATRICK AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. —
As an Air Force Reserve security forces Airman, Tech. Sgt. Bridget Gayden never imagined she’d be responding to help a sick mammal, however on Sept. 7, Gayden and fellow 920th Rescue Wing SF Airmen were called to help a 10-foot whale stranded on Patrick Air Force Base’s beach.
“It was an unforgettable experience,” said Gayden which led her to volunteering with the marine organization her team assisted.
At approximately 7:15 a.m., Gina Monteith, wife of Brig. Gen. Wayne Monteith, 45th Space Wing commander, found and reported a beached whale along the Patrick Air Force Base shoreline. The 45th SW Environmental Conservation personnel reported the incident to Sea World Orlando, whom they later met on scene.
In the meantime, 920th RQW Reserve Airmen teamed up with local volunteers from a local office of the Hubbs-Sea World Research Institute.
Volunteer Kasey Farrell said the whale was a species of Cogia, either a dwarf or pygmy. She explained, “When an animal like this that belongs in the deep water beaches itself, it’s already sick. Putting it back in the water will make it strand again and just prolong its suffering.”
The goal of this military-marine life team of helpers, was comfort. “Keepin it in the shade because they can get sunburnt; keeping the skin moist; keeping it comfortable,” until a Sea World research scientist arrived, said Farrell.
Despite wearing mid-calf combat boots and camouflage battle dress, Gayden waded back and forth into the surf filling a plastic container full of sea water to pour onto the animal’s skin – keeping it cool from the searing 80-degree heat.
Although the outcome today would not be what everyone on scene had hoped for, there were benefits.
Because these whales have never been successfully rehabilitated in captivity in the history of the ‘stranding program’, Wendy Noke-Gurgen, HSWRI Scientist, said the whale would be euthanized and taken back to Sea World for clinical research.
While the act of comforting a whale fell out of an SF Airman’s normal range of military duties, Gayden also didn’t expect to bond with the animal and her encounter has led to her current role as an HSWRI volunteer. She said it is her hope to help more sick animals like the whale.
“What we know about these animals, almost all of it comes from stranded ones. Rarely seen, they come from deep water. They are deep divers. We are hopeful we can find out why this animal stranded and the biology of the species and maybe learn something to help them down the road,” said Noke-Gurgen….
Yesterday morning biologists at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station discovered a stranded dolphin calf alone on the shore. Despite dealing with the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew and displacement from our lab due to significant damage from the storm, HSWRI’s Marine Mammal Stranding Team rushed to the scene. A shallow pool was dug in the sand and she was supported in the water, covered with wet towels and shaded from the sun. A vet and animal care team was dispatched from SeaWorld Orlando – with approval from NOAA Fisheries Service, she was loaded into the SeaWorld rescue ambulance and transported to their rehabilitation area.
The dolphin, measuring just under 4 feet in length, is likely just a few months old – it’s possible she became separated from her mother during the strong winds and surf caused by the hurricane. She certainly would have died if left on her own – she’s now receiving round the clock care from the specialists at SeaWorld Orlando and we wish her a successful recovery.
PORT CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) — A female pygmy sperm whale found beached on the rocks in Central Florida has been euthanized. Florida Today reports that biologists had to kill the marine mammal on Monday because deep-diving whales don’t survive in captivity.
Hubbs-SeaWorld Research Institute research scientist Wendy Noke Durden says rescuers can’t replicate the diet and conditions the whales need in captivity.
The nearly 10-foot-long whale was found by a commercial fisherman on Monday near the Trident submarine basin at Port Canaveral.
Researchers say the whale looked like it had been sick for a while.
The animal’s carcass will be examined in a necropsy at a Melbourne Beach facility.