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Rescuers fail to save stranded dolphin

By BRIAN IANIERI Staff Writer, (609) 463-6713
Press of Atlantic City


SEA ISLE CITY - Driving a dolphin across three states is about as difficult as it sounds.

A female dolphin that was stranded on a city beach Sunday morning took that five-hour ride to a Connecticut aquarium Monday in an effort to save the distressed mammal that had drawn a crowd at the 62nd Street beach.

Some tried to help the cetacean back into the water, while others took photographs. Members of the Marine Mammal Stranding Center based in Brigantine, arrived on the scene and used a specially designed truck to cart it away.

The Common Dolphin spent almost 24 hours in the center's exercise pool, where volunteers - called "Whale Walkers" - spent two-hour shifts in the water to check breathing and pulse rates.

On Monday, they drove it to the only facility that would accept it - the Mystic Aquarium - using a hose to douse it constantly on the 270-mile trip.

But the odds were against the dolphin: nationwide, less than 1 percent live after stranding, said Robert Schoelkopf, the stranding center's director.

The dolphin died Tuesday.

Most stranded cetaceans don't survive because sickness or injury causes them to beach in the first place, Schoelkopf said. And when they are out of water, the feel of their own body weight can be traumatic.

The cause of the dolphin's death has not yet been determined. Blood tests showed no abnormalities, but a fracture in the fluke may have caused it to beach, he said.

The aquarium has been performing X-rays on it, he said. Discovering what led the animal to the beach is important, he said.

"It needs to be done, and it's not just for the animal's sake, but the knowledge of why the animal died can be used for future strandings," he said.

If dolphins beach often, that might indicate a cause, such as bacterial infections, that can be remedied, he said.

The MMSC, which covers New Jersey's entire coastline, has more than 400 volunteers who rush to the sites of strandings. But Schoelkopf said citizens who spot a stranded mammal should stay away.

A flapping tail could seriously injure an onlooker, he said.

"We've had some big ones that had really thrown people around," he said.

Some beached animals may bite and cause infections. People see a distressed animal and may want to help. "It's better not to do it," he said.

Senior Stranding Technician Jay Pagel, who was on the scene of Tuesday's stranding, said it becomes difficult to keep onlookers away from animals.

People may not perceive a dolphin as dangerous, but they can be.

"They are predators, like bears and lions," he said.

Local dolphin watchers have reported an increase in the number of sightings this summer, attributing the increase to warmer and calmer waters, improved water quality and large schools of bait fish.

To e-mail Brian Ianieri at The Press:
 
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