Filly is young female bottlenose dolphin from Sarasota Bay. The dolphin was first spotted back in December of 2006 and had a fishing line trailing her tail. A month later Filly was seen again still with the fishing line but not algae had attached to the line. This was causing an additional drag and making the line cut deeper in Filly’s flesh.
Mote Dolphin and Whale Hospital received permission from the federal agency that regulates the protection of wild marine mammals, NOAA Fisheries Service, to aid the dolphin.
Sarasota Dolphin Research Program manager Dr. Randall Wells led a 30 member team on Jan 30th to free the dolphin from the line. The team was unable to move the line there so Filly was brought to Mote Dolphin and Whale Hospital where the line was removed and the dolphin was treated.
The hospitals chief veterinarian, Dr. Charles Manire, performed two surgeries to remove the line that had embedded into the dolphin’s skin near the tail and wrapped around the bone. A segment about a foot long that encircled the spinal column three times had to be removed. At the hospital the dolphin was also treated for infection.
“We found that Filly had ingested plastic and had obvious scars from a boat strike, as well as a scar from a shark bite,” Manire said. “She came in underweight, but has gained weight and grown. I’m hopeful she can survive on her own.”
Filly’s isn’t the only case that illustrates a serious issue facing resident dolphin population, Wells said. “Cases of dolphins being negatively affected by humans are becoming all too common on Sarasota Bay,” and he added. “In 2006, at least three adult dolphins clearly died as a result of recreational fishing gear entanglement and a fourth dolphin died with a large fishing lure in its mouth. A fifth dolphin was entangled in a man’s bikini bathing suit that had begun cutting into its pectoral fins.
Now this young dolphin would likely have died from having its tail cut off if it had not been rescued. While the loss of an additional three or four dolphins in one year and another injured from human interactions may not seem like a lot to some, our models show that continued unnatural dolphin deaths at this level will lead to the demise of the long-term resident Sarasota dolphin community.”
NOAA Fisheries has granted a conditional release for Filly now that she has had eight weeks of treatment. If the dolphin needs additional help contingencies are in place to return her to rehab.
Filly is a young dolphin, she had already separated from her mother when she was only 18 months. Most bottlenose dolphins stay with their mother, during this time they learn crucial survival skills, anywhere from three to six years after birth.
“This dolphin is unique in many ways,” Wells said. “In 37 years we’ve never seen a calf separate from its mother at so young an age, and we don’t know why that happened. We continue to see the mother in the bay behaving normally otherwise.”
One of the routine exams that Filly had while she was at the hospital found that her hearing is impaired at high frequencies.
“The things we expect to matter most to her – hearing boat noise, the sounds made by prey fish and other dolphins’ whistles – are within her hearing range,” Wells said. However Filly is a very resilient dolphin and Wells added.
“Filly represents an unfortunate example of the extent of harm caused by human interactions,” said Stacey Carlson, Bottlenose Dolphin Conservation coordinator for NOAA Fisheries Service. “We are confident in the steps that have been taken to ensure her continued survival, especially given the research and monitoring capabilities of the Sarasota Dolphin Research Program.”
Filly’s whereabouts and condition will be able to be monitored because she was outfitted with a small VHF radio transmitter.
“While we are hopeful that Filly is on the road to recovery, the injuries she’s had with fishing line and the boat strike are serious and indicate the potential for ongoing problems because she seems to be associating with humans,” Wells said. “We hope that she will stop pursuing contact with humans and adjust her behaviors, and we’ll be watching closely to make sure there are no additional problems.
Sarasota Bay boaters and anglers can also help us keep Filly and her fellow dolphins safe. Stowing used fishing line in closed containers, not fishing in areas where dolphins are frequenting and staying more than 50 yards away from wild dolphins, can help us all ensure that we’re keeping the waters safe for dolphins while still enjoying our waterways.”
If you encounter an injured, entangled, or sick dolphin in Sarasota or Manatee County, contact Mote’s Stranding Investigations Program at: (941) 988-0212. In other locations in Florida, contact the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission at 888-404-FWCC.