On Saturday afternoon, April 18, 2020, an experienced team from Dolphins Plus Marine Mammal Responder (DPMMR) freed a bottlenose dolphin entangled in a crab pot buoy-line off Long Key. Aided by FWC, the DPMMR team successfully removed all the gear from the 7-foot male dolphin that was fighting for his life.
Struggling to reach the surface for air against a rising tide and strong currents, the dolphin was nearing exhaustion when DPMMR and FWC arrived by boat. Following a 15-minute intervention to safely disentangle the dolphin, he was returned to native waters of the Florida Bay, with superficial injuries. A post-release monitoring effort insured the dolphin was stable and able to resume normal swimming and breathing behavior.
Fortunately, local fishing guides Brian and Michelle Meszaros spotted the dolphin and immediately called the FWC Wildlife Hotline (1-888-404-FWCC). They then remained on-site to monitor the dolphin and provide updates. FWC dispatch notified DPMMR stranding coordinator and alerted FWC Officer Mike Alvarez who was nearby. With support from the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), DPMMR was given a green light to assess the dolphin’s condition and was authorized to release the dolphin.
“The strong cooperation and coordination led to a safe and successful outcome for this dolphin,” said Steve McCulloch, DPMMR Stranding Coordinator. “We are fortunate that our local fishing guides knew who to call and that we had a trained and experienced team who responded quickly and safely. Like any 911 emergency, the sooner we are notified, the better chances for survival.”
Earlier in January, local residents of Stirrup Key, Doug and Nita Davis reported a young dolphin stranded in shallow water… again, DPMMR responders, FWC and staff from the Florida Aquarium Encounters immediately responded and were able to reunite a baby dolphin with his mother who was waiting nearby. She and several other dolphins had refused to abandon the calf that had apparently ventured too far into the shallows learning to chase baitfish.
Entanglement in fishing gear is a global problem that impacts more than 260 species including marine mammals, sea turtles and seabirds. Immediate effects include mortality, serious injury, minor injury, or no injury. Long-term effects include deteriorating health, decreased reproductive ability, or no impact. More whales, dolphins and porpoises die every year from fishing gear entanglement than from any other threat. Effects of fishing gear interactions are among the most pressing issues currently being addressed by management agencies in the United States.
Entangled marine mammals can be dangerous and should be approached only by trained response teams authorized by NOAA Fisheries. Network partners have invested much of their own time in training for and responding to entanglements in addition to training they receive from NOAA Fisheries.
Prompt reporting is the best way to help entangled marine animals. Report any marine animal in distress within the Florida Keys to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) 24/7 Wildlife Hotline by calling (888) 404-FWCC or hailing the U.S. Coast Guard on VHF Channel 16. If an authorized response is needed, please stay with the animal while you are able, if it is safe to do so.
DPMMR is the only organization authorized to respond to dolphin and whale strandings in the 10,000 square mile Florida Keys region. Visit the website www.DPMMR.org to learn more and make a donation.