Summary of Rescue, Rehabilitation and Release of Cetaceans from the Clearwater Aquarium from 1993 through January 2001
IAAAM Archive
Melody Baran; Robin K. Moore; R.T. Goldston; Chris Koberna
Clearwater Marine Aquarium, Clearwater, FL


The Clearwater Marine Aquarium (CMA) has been a dedicated member of the Southeast United States (SEUS) Stranding Network since 1979. CMA is one of the few facilities on the west coast of Florida that holds a Letter of Authorization (LOA) from the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) to respond to marine mammal stranding events. CMA's Marine Animal Stranding Response Team is on call around the clock and consists of biologists, animal handlers, trainers, veterinarians, and more than 85 specially trained volunteers. Over the years, the team has responded to more than 300 marine mammal stranding events and has worked with a wide variety of cetacean species. Chances of completely rehabilitating a live cetacean are slim, but several of our attempts have been successful, culminating in release and post-release monitoring. Through post-release monitoring, CMA strives to collect data that would provide information about the effectiveness of rehabilitation techniques and to gain clues about the animals' life history, ecology, range, etc.

Following is a retrospective review of CMA's response to live cetacean strandings from 1993 through January 2001. Of the 23 cetaceans admitted to CMA's rehabilitation facility since 1993, six have been successfully rehabilitated and released.

January 2001: a 305 cm, 880 pound female pygmy sperm whale (Kogia breviceps) stranded on Indian Rocks Beach, FL. Generalized dermal excoriation related to tossing in the surf; dead calf (141 cm) found in the morning at the same stranding site. Adult died within hours of transport to CMA; necropsy revealed heavy parasitism. Histopathology pending; cause of death suspected to be related to inclement weather and post-parturient stresses.

January 2001: a 207 cm, 200 pound male Atlantic spotted dolphin (Stenellafrontalis) transported to CMA after stranding near Marineland, FL. Blood-work was unremarkable; died after approximately 30 hours; a few hours before planned transport to another facility with heated rehabilitation pool. Gross necropsy unremarkable; morbillvirus negative; histopathology pending. Death suspected to be cold stress or toxin-related.

September 2000: a 151 cm, 120 pound juvenile dwarf sperm whale (Kogia simus), "Daisy", stranded near Ft. Pierce, FL. Treated for gastroenteritis; failed to thrive and expired approximately two months later. Cardiomyopathy, suspected cause of death, histopathology pending.

December 1999: CMA acquired a 255 cm, 420 pound adult male Atlantic bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops truncatus), "Napoleon", that stranded months prior on Tavernier Key, FL and was cared for initially by the Marine Animal Rescue Society (MARS). He was suffering from fungal pneumonia and on antibacterial/antifungal therapy; morbillivirus negative. Condition rapidly deteriorated and animal expired 13 days after arrival at CMA. Histopathology revealed generalized bacteremia with pulmonary and central nervous systems most severely affected.

August 1999: three adult, male pantropical spotted dolphins (Stenella attenuata) stranded near Ft. Pierce, FL all mildly dehydrated and affected by gastroenteritis which was corrected with antibiotic treatment, intestinal protectants and nutritional supplementation. Two of the dolphins did well and were successfully released in October 1999. The third animal failed to thrive and was anorexic unless force-fed. He began regurgitating two weeks into rehabilitation and died two days later. Histopathology supported pancreatic atrophy and gastrointestinal malabsorptive disease. The two survivors were fitted with satellite-linked transmitters and tracked for 42 days and 21 days post-release.

September 1998: a 173 cm, 100 pound, young, male short-snouted spinner dolphin (Stenella clymene) stranded on Anclote Key, FL. He had healing shark bite wounds and multiple truncal abrasions; severe halitosis noted. Endoscopy revealed ulcerative gastritis; antibiotics, intestinal protectants and nutritional support instituted. Anorexia persisted, condition deteriorated and animal died 4 days into rehabilitation. Histopathology supported chronic pneumonia, possibly parasite related.

July 1998: a 228 cm, 200 pound female Atlantic bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops truncatus), Penny", was transported to CMA after stranding twice near Pensacola, FL. Three large gashes (possible human interaction, suspected fishing gear) present on antithorax; teeth discolored brown; mammary glands engorged; slightly underweight. Blood work indicated hepatopathy; toxin exposure suspected. Morbillivirus negative, aggressive natured; appetite waxed and waned with a 14 pound weight loss throughout rehabilitation. Died after 10 weeks in rehabilitation. Histopathology revealed parasitic hepatopathy, pancreatitis and acute agonal cardiovascular collapse.

October 1997: a 51 pound male neonate bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops truncatus), "Pumpkin", estimated to be about three months old, stranded near Ft. Meyers, FL. He suffered from emaciation and a large wound to his hemi-thorax suspected to be a shark bite. Partially cared for by the cow of the cow/calf pair that stranded later the same day.

October 1997: a 241 cm, 420 pound adult female, "Autumn", and neonate (estimated age, 1-3 months), "Harvey", Atlantic bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus), stranded on Belleair Shores, FL. Both were underweight and mildly dehydrated; nutritional supplement corrected condition. Additionally, the mother was treated with antibiotics for possible reproductive tract inflammation. Hemoglobin electrophoretic signature was intermediate of inshore and offshore ecotypes (personal communication Dr. D. Duffield). Suspected causes of stranding were inclement weather patterns and post-parturient related stresses. Both animals thrived; the calf was able to catch and consume live fish prior to the April 1998 release. The mother was fitted with a satellite-linked transmitter, which yielded 152 days of post-release tracking.

December 1996: a 270 cm, 500 pound male Atlantic bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops truncatus), "Rudy", stranded in Panacea, FL. His stranding suspected to have been brought about by a combination of factors including pneumonia, advanced age and a period of inclement weather. Rudy was treated with antibiotics for infection and given a series of morbillivirus tests which were positive. No rise in titer levels indicated exposure without active infection; he was not considered a health threat to wild stock. Rudy's hemoglobin electrophoretic signature was intermediate of inshore and offshore ecotypes (personal communication Dr. D. Duffield). Rudy was fitted with a satellite-linked transmitter and released in March 1997 approximately 25 miles off of Clearwater, Florida. 42 days of post-release tracking were obtained.

July 1996: a 231 cm, 326 pound female Atlantic bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops truncatus) stranded on Sanibel Island, FL. "Belle" was treated with antibiotics and succumbed to septicemia more than four months after her stranding. The animal's diagnostics included a CT scan.

September 1995: a Kogia sp. calf stranded in St. Petersburg, FL and the following day the suspected mother stranded near Tarpon Springs, FL. Post-parturient stresses suspected reason for stranding.

June 1995: a mass stranding of short-snouted spinner dolphins (Stenella clymene) stranded in Tarpon Springs, FL. A total of 18 animals were collected; five dead, thirteen live. Mote Marine triaged six adult/subadult males; they released those animals (minus one that died in transport) later that night after fitting one with a radio transmitter. The remaining seven were transported to CMA. One dolphin, a post-parturient female, died in transport, another dolphin died the following night. Four adult/sub-adult females continued to receive treatment; one animal was fitted with a radio transmitter and all four were released after four days of rehabilitation; all were found dead on the shore approximately 28 hours later and within one mile of the original stranding site. A male calf, "Springer", remained at CMA for another 12 weeks of rehabilitation before he expired.

February 1993: a 259 cm, 370 pound male Atlantic bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops truncatus), "CeSar", stranded on St. Pete Beach, FL. Severe emaciation was corrected with nutritional support and antibiotic therapy. He was released approximately three months later about one mile west of the stranding site.


The success, to date, of CMA's rehabilitation and release program is brought about by the tireless efforts of all the volunteers, staff, veterinarians (Bill Goldston and Robin Moore), scientists, and supporters who provided the time, hard work, expertise, and funds to make it happen. Special thanks go to scientists from Mote Marine Laboratory, Sea World of Florida, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, and the National Marine Fisheries Service. In particular, much gratitude goes to Randy Wells, Howard Rheinhart, Jay Gorzelany, Nelio Barros, Dan Odell, Mike Walsh, Randy Runnels, Forrest Townsend, John Reynolds, Graham Worthy, Debbie Duffield, Blair Mase, Kathy Wang, Andy Read, Andrew Westgate, Ruth Ewing, and Greg Bossart, for helping to provide a wealth of expertise, support, and guidance to CMA's efforts.

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Melody Baran

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