Bottlenose Dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) Displaced By Hurricane Rita in Western Louisiana-Their Rescue and Release
IAAAM Archive
Heidi R. Watts1; Sarah Piwetz1; Lindsey Godlove1; Patricia Rosel2
1Texas Marine Mammal Stranding Network; 2National Marine Fisheries Service, Southeast Fisheries Science Center


In September 2005, Hurricane Rita struck the Western Louisiana coastline and brought a significant storm surge with it. During the 3 weeks following Hurricane Rita, there were six cases reported of dolphins found out of habitat in Western Louisiana. All six animals involved were Tursiops truncatus. All of the dolphins found were located approximately 2-6 miles inland from the Gulf of Mexico.

Five of these animals were within a 10 mile stretch along the Louisiana Gulf Coast with a single dolphin being located approximately 75 miles further east. All six were found trapped in various bodies of water including canals, ditches and other marshland areas with salinity levels ranging from 10 to 16 ppt. Of the six dolphins, no two were found in the same body of water. With the use of nets and other capture strategies, five of these animals were contained and immediately released back into the Gulf of Mexico. These rescues all took place over the course of the month following Hurricane Rita. These five dolphins were only slightly underweight and exhibited signs of possible dehydration, but appeared strong otherwise. Many were observed feeding in their shallow bodies of water to sustain themselves prior to their capture and release. Only one showed clinical signs that the skin had been affected and this was limited to the tail flukes and pectoral fins. All five dolphins that were released were monitored before capture, during transport and prior to release. Only one of these five dolphins exhibited signs of high stress levels (i.e., high respiration count/heart rate and arching). It was the same animal that displayed skin abnormalities.

In the sixth case reported, the animal was severely emaciated and had already died.

This information shows the affect that a natural disaster can have on marine mammals and their ability to survive not only the circumstances of being displaced but also the stressors that capture may place on them prior to release. It also emphasizes the difference between animals stranding due to illness and those otherwise healthy, but out of habitat.

Speaker Information
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Heidi Watts

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