CLEARWATER, Fla. — A baby dolphin that crews with Clearwater Marine Aquarium tried to rescue Wednesday is in critical condition, the local aquarium explained in an update Thursday.
The male bottlenose dolphin calf is receiving around-the-clock care from SeaWorld Orlando now, where it was taken for rehabilitation.
The aquarium attempted to rescue the bottlenose dolphin calf found tangled in the remnants of a crab trap under Pier 60 at Clearwater Beach.
Clearwater Fire & Rescue said lifeguards were first to notice an adult dolphin circling in shallow water, prompting them to investigate. As they got closer, they found the younger dolphin tangled up. The adult swam off.
A crew from Clearwater Marine Aquarium freed and evaluated the calf as they waited hopefully for the baby's mom to return.
But, no adult dolphin showed up. The marine animal hospital consulted with National Marine Fisheries about what to do. Because the calf initially appeared to be doing OK, the decision was made that it should be released and monitored in the hope that it would find its mom on its own.
"We did everything we could to reunite this animal with its mother in the wild," a Clearwater Marine Aquarium team member said.
The young animal was released just before 3:15 p.m. but did not immediately swim off. It appeared lethargic and not confident in swimming. A rescue boat was brought in to be alongside the dolphin as CMA continued to hold out hope that it would find its mom.
But, the baby dolphin appeared to continue to struggle. And, rescuers began to carry it again. The decision was then made that the calf should be taken to SeaWorld for rehabilitation where it's now receiving around-the-clock care.
The spokesperson for CMA said human interaction and anthropogenic material are an issue for marine life. A tip for fishermen — make sure you're disposing of fishing lines and "ghost debris" like crab traops properly in an effort to keep the water clean and clear for humans and marine animals.
This sort of situation, involving a baby dolphin and a crab trap, is not a first for CMA.
CMA's most famous dolphin, Winter – who died in November 2021 – was also trapped in a crab trap as a calf. Back in December 2005, a fisherman found Winter caught up in the rope of a crab trap boy in a place called Mosquito Lagoon, which is not far from Cape Canaveral.
Following her rescue in 2005, Winter was taken to CMA where caretakers came to a heartbreaking realization. The rope of that crab trap had been so firmly wound around her peduncle that it had cut off all the blood supply to her tail flukes.
Together, the staff at CMA watched as Winter healed without her tail flukes and figured out a new way to swim on her own. Unlike the up-and-down tail motion she'd done before, she figured out how to wiggle side to side – swimming more like a shark traditionally would.
A prosthetic tail eventually helped Winter with regular physical therapy sessions. Her story made national headlines and was turned into the "Dolphin Tale" movie franchise.