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Researchers rescue baby dolphin tangled in fishing line in Clearwater

Sarasota Dolphin Research Center led a rescue team of eight boats and 38 trained personnel.

CLEARWATER, Fla. — Editor's note: The video above is from a previous story.

A troubled baby dolphin is swimming safely off of Clearwater Beach, thanks to a team of rescuers from several Tampa Bay area organizations.

In December, Clearwater Marine Aquarium spotted a dolphin calf, still paired with its mother "Matilda," badly tangled in fishing line near Clearwater Beach.

At first, CMA, along with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, continued to monitor the dolphin in hopes that it would shed the line on its own. The organization even warned the public not to intervene, for fear that it could add additional stress or harm to the animal.

Credit: Chicago Zoological Society taken under NOAA authority under MMPA

But, after continued monitoring, and one unsuccessful attempt to remove the line remotely with a long-handled cutting tool, researchers knew they had to step in.

According to the Sarasota Dolphin Research Program, who led the rescue, the line had severed much of the dolphin’s dorsal fin and was continuing to cut into the animal, wrapping around its peduncle — the place where the dolphin’s tail connects to its body. 

So, a team of veterinarians and biologists met on Jan. 13 to discuss the best plan of action.

"While we knew such an operation involved many risks to both the dolphin and the humans, the participants agreed that the calf faced a near-certain and very nasty death if the gear was not removed," SDRP Director Dr. Randy Wells wrote.

On Jan. 18, SDRP led a rescue team of eight boats and 38 trained personnel from CMA, FWC, SeaWorld, Mote Marine Laboratory and the NMFS Southeast Regional Office. 

The team was able to safely circle the dolphins and remove the line from the calf, which was determined to be a female, before giving her a dose of antibiotics. After the five-minute procedure, both mom and baby were released and swam off together.

Credit: Chicago Zoological Society

Researchers have continued monitoring the dolphin calf, noting that she has been more active and swimming better than before the line was removed.

"We remain concerned about this dolphin, however. Given the highly disfigured shape of her dorsal fin, she’s at a high risk of continuing to catch line on it, and we may have to intervene again," Wells added.

The organization is now warning boaters and fisherman to be conscious of the environment while out on the water. That means reeling in your line when dolphins are near, collecting any materials caught in the mangroves and avoiding potentially harmful tools like braided fishing line. 

For more tips on being dolphin-safe while out on the water, check out Sarasota Dolphin Research program's website.


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