S.C. dolphin drama: Humans try to help distressed animal

  • Posted: Wednesday, October 31, 2012 12:22 a.m., Updated: Wednesday, October 31, 2012 12:36 a.m.
A distressed dolphin bobs to the surface Sunday near Bushy Park Boat Landing, hours before a marine biologist came to check on it.

GOOSE CREEK — The dolphin was coming straight up out of the water, making pitiful moans and then going back down, slowly swimming around the Bushy Park Boat Landing.

Cathy Murphy spotted it Friday. It looked like something might be wrapped around its tail, dragging it down.

“We’ve watched dolphins for years, and we knew something was wrong,” she said.

Marine biologists are hesitant to interfere with dolphins in the water, but they step in when animals get caught up in nets and ropes tossed in by humans.

Murphy called the Department of Natural Resources hotline and was referred to the National Ocean Service’s marine mammal stranding program, without immediate results.

She and husband Greg went out looking for the dolphin again Sunday morning. They found it shortly after 1 p.m., still exhibiting the same sad symptoms.

“If you all could hear the sound it’s making you would understand why I’m wanting to help it,” she said in a tweet.

The Murphys stayed near the dolphin on their boat, sending out tweets, taking photos and videos and making phone calls. Two other dolphins circled their pitiful friend for a while, then swam away.

About 5 p.m., a marine biologist from the station on James Island arrived on a Charleston police boat.

The Charleston officer was already on patrol and did not make an extra trip for the dolphin, department spokesman Charles Francis said.

The Murphys watched the biologist take photographs, make his assessment and then leave. They returned to the boat landing, unsure of what might happen to the dolphin.

The dolphin will stay in the water, and nature will take its course, Wayne McFee, supervisor at the James Island marine biology station, said Monday after seeing the biologist’s report.

There was nothing attached to the dolphin’s tail, McFee said. On the other hand, the animal’s belly seemed to be distended, so it’s possible it was a pregnant female, he said. Pregnancy could account for the animal’s moans and sluggish behavior, he said.

It’s also possible the dolphin had pneumonia, he said. If that were the case, the dolphin would have a better chance of recovering in the water than undergoing the trauma of being removed, he said.

Removing an animal from the water is no simple procedure. The dolphin would have to be taken to a marine mammal hospital in Florida. That would require getting approval from the National Marine Fisheries Service’s regional stranding coordinator in Miami.

The move itself would require a large net, an experienced team and a special truck. The procedure is reserved for dolphins injured by humans who appear to be strong enough to survive the trauma of a transport, he said.

“Usually it’s best to leave things alone,” McFee said.

The experience left Murphy with mixed feelings.

“My heart breaks for the dolphin,” she said in a tweet Sunday night. “I know sometimes it’s better for nature to take its course but the poor thing is still suffering.”

Reach Dave Munday at 937-5553 or twitter.com/dmunday.

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