(Grand Isle, La.) – Following six weeks of monitoring, the first dolphin to be rescued, rehabilitated and released in Louisiana is doing well in the wild. Audubon Nature Institute and the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries in coordination with NOAA‘s National Marine Fisheries Service and Chicago Zoological Society’s Sarasota Dolphin Research Program partnered on this historic accomplishment.
Post-release monitoring included satellite tag data along with visual observations conducted by staff in the field under the authority of a stranding agreement between NOAA Fisheries and Audubon Aquarium of the Americas according to the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972 (MMPA).
On October 26, 2015, biologists from LDWF responded to a private citizen’s report of a live, stranded dolphin on Grand Isle Beach. Based on initial evaluations, the 6.5-foot-long juvenile dolphin was responsive. High water and rough seas associated with Hurricane Patricia likely contributed to the cause of the stranding.
The dolphin, which was transported to Freeport-McMoRan Audubon Species Survival Center (FMASSC) in New Orleans, made positive progress in the following months of evaluation and treatment. Named “Octavius’’ in an affectionate nod to the Audubon veterinarian caring for him, the dolphin responded well to treatment and was able to swim on his own. Finally, Octavius passed medical clearance, including blood work and veterinary examinations, showing no indication of congenital defects or medical issues that would hinder his ability to survive in the wild.
Because there was the possibility that he could be a dependent calf based on his size at stranding, he was considered a “conditionally releasable” animal. Both LDWF and Audubon are responsible for stringent post-monitoring protocols outlined by NOAA Fisheries and staff were required to closely monitor this animal in the wild for six weeks after release.
“It’s been six weeks and he is doing everything a dolphin should be doing. Results from monitoring appear to show that he is thriving and has a strong chance to survive in the the wild. It’s such an honor to watch him excel. We gave him a second chance in the wild.”Gabriella Vazquez, Audubon Coastal Wildlife Network Stranding and Rescue Coordinator
LDWF leads the response for sea turtles and marine mammal strandings, and Audubon Nature Institute works closely with the department as a response partner to collect data about existing populations of animals along Louisiana’s coast and waterways and to assist and support researchers in the conservation of marine species.
The Association of Zoos and Aquariums facilities make up roughly 25 percent of non-governmental response partners. According to NOAA, “Over the last decade, 7,979 marine mammal standings have been reported in the Southeast region with an average of 798 strandings per year.”
The public can contact LDWF’s stranding hotline at (337) 962-7092 or Audubon Coastal Wildlife at (504) 235-3005 if they encounter an injured or stranded (live or dead) marine mammal or sea turtle or report strandings through NOAA’s Dolphin & Whale 911 app for your smartphone (http://1.usa.gov/1b1kqfv).