CLEARWATER — While thousands of revelers watched fireworks during the city’s Celebrate America Fourth of July event, medical staff at Clearwater Marine Aquarium attended to a baby dolphin found stranded, weak and malnourished hours earlier.
The four-foot-long Atlantic spotted dolphin calf was found struggling in the surf near Redington Beach on Friday.
Beachgoers called for help, according to Kelly Richmond of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.
“The water was pretty choppy, and the dolphin was very lethargic,” she said.
Some people tried to push the calf back into the Gulf of Mexico, which was “a bad idea.” Usually if a dolphin is that close to the beach, it’s there for a reason. They’re usually distressed or sick, so they strand themselves.
Beachgoers “watched and cheered” as wildlife officials and members of the aquarium’s Stranding Team, trained staff and volunteers who respond to calls about sick or injured marine animals, tended to the dolphin. Rescuers carried the calf to a van for the ride to the aquarium’s marine hospital on Island Estates.
It’s unknown why the young dolphin and her mother were separated, according to Frank Dame, executive vice president at Clearwater Marine Aquarium.
“It is believed that, based on her weight, she was without her mother for approximately one week,” he said. “She was malnourished and couldn’t swim on her own.”
Dame also said the young dolphin “is not out of the woods yet. She seems to have a stomach problem.”
The calf, believed to be about 4 months old, is receiving a comprehensive health check, Dame said, and is undergoing rehabilitation and receiving fluids. She also is being supported while she swims.
Amy Binder, a media spokesperson for the aquarium, said, “Her diet at this point consists of a fish type milkshake,” which is effective in hydrating and adding calories.
While the goal is to “rehabilitate for release,” Binder said, “Every case is different and we don’t know what the future holds for this little dolphin.”
The dolphin is being tended to on the aquarium’s Stranding Deck, the newest addition to the facility that has two pools for rehabbing dolphins or whales. There’s also a smaller section that joins the pools that has a floor that can be raised or lowered. This area, which had been open to the public before Friday, is now off limits to the public because the dolphin is in quarantine.
“The medical staff has been working around the clock to stabilize her by providing her with medical care and fluids to keep her hydrated,” he said. “She was finally able to swim on her own yesterday (Sunday).”
The dolphin still is considered to be fragile and continues to receive fluids every few hours to provide nourishment, Dame said.
David Yates, CEO of Clearwater Marine Aquarium, said in a statement, “The medical team is pleased with the progress thus far, but there are several unknowns as we continue rehabilitation and treatment.
“We want to thank the bystanders who reported the stranding to FWC for taking appropriate action, as stranded marine life are generally ill or injured and need immediate medical attention.”