Dolphin Was Old, in Bad Health

By KAREN NELSON of the Sun Herald

GULFPORT - The huge dolphin that beached itself in the shallow waters off St. Andrews last month was likely from deep water near the Continental Shelf in the Gulf, 150 to 200 miles out.

Initial findings from an autopsy done by the Louisiana State University veterinarian school led experts to believe that the dolphin fell ill and was carried by the currents to the shores of St. Andrews.

Residents there spotted it half out of the water, called the experts and tried to help. But members of the Institute for Marine Mammal Studies said the animal did poorly overnight even though they worked with him, and he was euthanized.

Moby Solangi, president and director of the institute, said it was the second-largest dolphin he had seen in his 25-year history of working with the animals. It was a male, 550 pounds and 10.5 feet in length. Dolphins average a length of eight to nine feet, he said.

Solangi attributed the animal's poor health to a combination of factors - old age, gum disease and tooth decay, an infection in the jaw bone, dehydration, gastrointestinal problems, a parasite infestation and worms.

He said the toxicology report showed it did not have high levels of heavy metals, arsenic or other toxins. It had no infectious diseases.

But the threat of disease is one of the reasons the federal government prohibits the public from touching stranded dolphins, Solangi said.

According to the Marine Mammal Protection Act, people have to have a permit from the National Marine Fisheries Service in order to handle dolphins, he said. Those who rescue the animals are also collecting vital information for a national data bank and this information could be lost if inexperienced people interfere, he said.

Anyone finding a dolphin can get in touch with qualified personnel by calling the local police department, the state Department of Marine Resources or the U.S. Coast Guard.

"It's important to help us find these animals, whether they are alive or dead," Solangi said.

He said Mississippi and Louisiana have the largest population of dolphins in the United States because of the Mississippi River and its estuaries and nearby bayous. He said dolphins feel free to feed and feel protected from sharks in the murky waters of the Sound.