Friday, May 18, 2007

Accusations fly as rescuers prepare pregnant dolphin for birth. FL, USA

What has the hallmarks of a touching story of humans attending to a deaf and pregnant Atlantic bottlenose dolphin has been tainted as dolphin advocates accuse rescuers of mistakes, exploitation and bad intentions. The pregnant female dolphin, named "Castaway" after the east coast Florida beach where she was found stranded last November, is under the care of the Marine Mammal Conservancy in Key Largo. After spending over two months rehabilitating at the Mote Marine Laboratory in Sarasota, Castaway was brought to the 2-acre rehabilitation site adjacent to the Doubletree Resort near mile marker 102.3 at the end of January. "When she got here she was very aggressive, but she is much better now" said Robert Lingenfelser, president of the Marine Mammal Conservancy. "She is due to deliver any day." Contrary to rumors circulating that the mother will be euthanized after giving birth, Lingenfelser said after six to nine months both the mother and her calf would be turned over to Dolphins Plus in Key Largo and become their property. "Dolphins Plus has the best record in the world for the care of their animals," he said. Since Castaway is deaf and her calf will not be taught basic ocean survival, neither animal are eligible for release. How Castaway became deaf is a big issue for dolphin advocate and director of the Dolphin Freedom Foundation Russ Rector. He blame rescuers. After being found at Castaway Cove near Vero Beach, the 10-foot-long deep-water mammal was turned over to Mote and transported across the state to Sarasota. There, she was aided in her recovery and on Jan. 30 she was transported back to the ocean for release. Mote Chief Veterinarian Charlie Manire injected Castaway with the sedative, Midazolam, before the dolphin was transported. Soon after they arrived Manire gave her a reversal drug, Romazicon, which Manire said he considers standard procedure. Mote made four attempts to release the animal, but she was lethargic and would not swim. "They tried to release a stoned animal four times, but it swam back to shore from eight miles out in the ocean," said Rick Trout, a dolphin advocate and the founder and former member of the Marine Mammal Conservancy. Eventually the rescuers gave up and were told by the National Marine Fisheries Service to transport Castaway to the Marine Mammal Conservancy where she is today. "Charlie admitted the drug caused [deafness]," Rector said. "They use this in surgical procedures and it causes loss of hearing." Manire dismissed Rector's allegation. He said there was no way to know when the stranded dolphin became deaf. "We were not able to test the animal's hearing prior to release," he said. Manire attributed that to delays in securing permits from the National Marine Fisheries Service, which authorizes and oversees dolphin rescue operations. "There is only one scientist in Florida who can test hearing. He had no permit until late December. When [the Fisheries Service] found that Castaway was pregnant, they said the scientist needed an additional permit. We spent a month-and-a-half trying to get that permit in vain." Trout says the oceanographic institution that found the animal in the first place should have kept it in Vero Beach. "Harbor Branch dropped the ball," Trout said. "They should have never transported her four hours across the state." Manire said Harbor Branch has no rehabilitation facility. Trout also said the animal should have been kept at the Mote facility once transported there."The animal should have gone back to the veterinarian who tried to release her," he said. Manire, however, said the National Marine Fisheries Service made the call to send Castaway to Key Largo since Mote has no birthing facility. Dolphin advocate Rector said even that facility is inadequate. Shrugging off such criticism, Lingenfelser says he remains focused on providing the best care he can to Castaway and her calf. The Marine Mammal Conservancy, he said, is preparing to use a special telephone hook-up to pipe in the vocal sounds of dolphins located a few miles down the highway at Dolphins Plus. He says this one-way "chat line" will help the baby learn to communicate. "We will give the calf a chance to learn communication skills and Castaway a chance to teach him what she can," he said. "We will keep the mother and child together. They raise their young and nurse them for up to four years." As for allegations from Trout that the conservancy is using Castaway for publicity, Lingenfelser says his operation is all-volunteer and is not a public-display facility. Last Thursday, Lingenfelser said his staff filed a complaint against Trout with the Monroe County Sheriff's Office. "We're tired of his harassment. He stood across the canal yelling that he is the reason we are all here and taking a video of our work," Lingenfelser said. Source:

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