Aquarium: Rehabbed dolphin killed by shark
This morning, staff from Clearwater Marine Aquarium, Gulf World Marine Park and Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute released rehabilitated Atlantic bottlenose dolphin, Dunham.
Along with the lure of the open sea and home, come the dangers.
Dunham, the Atlantic bottlenose dolphin that was released this morning after eight months in rehab recovering from pneumonia, got only a taste of the freedom today. Within a couple hours of being freed off the coast of Dunedin, the dolphin was attacked by sharks and died.
Officials with the Clearwater Marine Aquarium were mum this afternoon about specifics, but they were troubled by the death of the mammal they nursed back from near-death in December.
"This is a stab to the heart of these people who cared for him," said Jeni Hatter, spokeswoman for the aquarium, which called a 3:30 p.m. news conference to release the latest developments.
Hatter said that a couple of hours after he was released, Dunham met up with a pair of sharks, and they did what sharks do: attacked and severely injured the dolphin. Biologists were nearby in boats monitoring the movements of the dolphin, which had a radio transmitter attached to its dorsal fin.
They rushed to help but ended up euthanizing Dunham because of the severity of the injuries.
Dunham's brief taste of freedom early this morning came after an eight-hour, overnight trip in a truck from Panama City.
"He's totally well, and we put him back into the Gulf," said David Yates, director of the Clearwater
Marine Aquarium, which rescued Dunham in December and helped in his rehabilitation. Yates made his comments just after the animal was seen swimming away from shore, apparently a picture of health.
"There's a lot of stress on an animal to go from the Gulf to a pool and back to the Gulf in eight months," he said. "He's doing extremely well, and it couldn't have gone better today."
The dolphin was released just after 8 a.m., and spirits among the rescuers were high.
Diane Young, the aquarium's director of animal care and stranding coordinator, said it is rare that a dolphin survives pneumonia and eight months of rehab.
"We're happy to see him go back into the ocean," she said this morning just after Dunham's release.
Dunham, believed to be between 7 or 8 years old, was found not far from Anclote Key in December, emaciated, sick with pneumonia and covered with abrasions. He weighed a scant 245 pounds when he was pulled aboard a boat, an obvious candidate for rehab.
Biologists with the Clearwater facility took charge and provided immediate veterinary attention.
Dunham got injections of antibiotics and fluids, and biologists kept vigil over him in a triage pool at the aquarium. The next day, he was packed up and driven to the Gulf World Marine Park in Panama City. There, marine scientists determined he also suffered from severe gastritis as well as pneumonia.
It took eight months of rehabilitation, but Dunham had put on 30 pounds and appeared healthy enough Monday night to make the trip to Dunedin.
It was important to bring him back here to be let loose, said aquarium spokeswoman Hatter. "That's the area he's familiar with."
The occasion included staff from the Clearwater aquarium, the marine park in Panama City and the Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute at Florida Atlantic University.
Just before his release, "he was making a lot of dolphin sounds and getting anxious," Hatter said, and that was a good sign.
"He was getting ready to be free again," she said.
Dunham was equipped with a tiny VHF transmitter on his dorsal fin so his meanderings could be tracked.
This was the first dolphin release for the Clearwater Marine Aquarium since the November 2006 release of Mandy and Troy.
Dunham was among two dozen dolphins captured, treated for various maladies and released along Florida's coastline over the past five years, according to a fact sheet issued by the aquarium. Most years, about five dolphins are treated and released, but in 2005, a mass stranding of 70 dolphins resulted in 13 of the mammals being successfully rehabilitated.