Dolphin calf freed of plastic entanglement

A team of researchers and veterinarians successfully today freed a 9-month-old Sarasota Bay dolphin calf from plastic that was wound tightly around her body and beginning to cause deep abrasions to her skin.

Led by the Sarasota Dolphin Research Program — a partnership between the Chicago Zoological Society and Mote Marine Laboratory — the team of about 30 people briefly captured the calf and her mother and was able to free the animal from the plastic. The plastic was wound around her body between her blowhole and her pectoral fins.

The calf was first spotted "wearing" the plastic on Friday, Feb. 19, by Sarasota Dolphin Research Program staff during a regular survey of the Bay's dolphin population. After receiving permission from the National Marine Fisheries Service, which oversees the protection of wild marine mammals, a team attempted to capture the animal to remove the plastic on Friday, Feb. 26, according to a news release.

While the team was able to locate the animal, the calf and her mother remained in deep, rough waters that made a rescue attempt impossible.

On Monday, the team tried again and was able to capture the calf in Little Sarasota Bay and remove the plastic, which also had a rusting piece of metal attached to it. The material was sent to the National Marine Fisheries Service for identification.

"It was clear once we had the animal that the plastic was not going to come off on its own," said Dr. Randall Wells, who led the team.

"The plastic was beginning to cause deep abrasions, which would likely have become deep lacerations over time. Fortunately, we were able to prevent that from happening. This is just another sad reminder that we need to be diligent about keeping trash from entering our waterways."

In addition to staff from Mote and the Chicago Zoological Society, other rescue team members included staff from the National Marine Fisheries Service and Disney's Animal Programs.