Dies in Transit
NMFS Northeast Region
N E W SSea Bright, NJ – A specially trained and equipped team of experts captured a bottlenose dolphin mother and calf this morning in the Shrewsbury River off Oceanport. While the calf survived, its ailing mother died while in transit to a release site.
"We were headed for a successful release off Monmouth Beach," said Gregg LaMontagne, "but we were also prepared for emergency medical situation transport to a rehabilitation facility." LaMontagne is acting as the regional coordinator of the Marine Mammal Stranding Network in the northeastern United States, and works for NOAA Fisheries, the federal agency that organizes responses to marine mammal strandings such as this one.
The calf, a female, was taken to the National Aquarium in Baltimore (NAIB), a nationally recognized rehabilitation facility, in a specially outfitted truck that was waiting on scene. Marine mammal veterinarians from the NAIB and from NOAA Fisheries accompanied her, as did several trained marine mammal handlers.
"The capture went smoothly, transit time was excellent, but it appears that the mother was not well," says LaMontagne. Blood samples taken immediately after capture showed the adult female had anemia and high white cell counts indicating an infection. A subsequent autopsy revealed that the animal was ill and in poor body condition. Further analyses of samples gathered during that examination may reveal other health problems.
"Relocation is always stressful on wild animals, even when conditions are good and the team is as well equipped and experienced as this one," says Janet Whaley, coordinator of NOAA Fisheries' National Marine Mammal Stranding Network. Whaley is also a marine mammal veterinarian and was part of the rescue team. "It saddens all of us in the network when we lose an animal, but we will take a lot of information away from the necropsy that may help us learn more about stock structure, life history, and the health of these animals."
NOAA Fisheries provides coordination and oversight for the marine mammal stranding network, but the operations themselves are conducted together with various partners in the network, most of whom are volunteers. Today's operation included more than 30 people representing nine different federal, state, private, and university organizations scattered across the United States.
The animals have been monitored since early September by volunteers and staff at the Marine Mammal Stranding Center in Brigantine, NJ. The Marine Mammal Stranding Center is the only organization in New Jersey authorized to rescue and rehabilitate stranded marine mammals and sea turtles. Director Robert Schoelkopf assisted in the rescue attempt along with several other MMSC staff members.
Concerns about the effects of prolonged exposure to relatively fresh water, declining water temperatures, gradual movement of forage fish out of the river, and the growing likelihood that one or both of the animals were in declining health prompted the relocation attempt. Had the adult survived, the pair would have been released into the open ocean off Monmouth Beach.
Special assistance was provided today by the New Jersey Marine Patrol, the U.S. Coast Guard, the Monmouth Beach and Long Branch Police Departments; Covesail Marina in Sea Bright, the Channel Club Marina in Monmouth Beach, the NOAA Office for Law Enforcement, the National Ocean Service Center for Coastal Environmental Health and Biomolecular Research, the Chicago Zoological Society, and staff at the James J. Howard Marine Science Laboratory on Sandy Hook.