Tag Archives: dolphin

Dolphin Rescue

Dec 17, 3pm “Nasa mababaw na bahagi ng dagat ang stranded na dolphin. Bilis!” [A dolphin is stranded on the beach. Come quickly!] With that call my training as a First Responder through the Philippine Marine Mammal Stranding Network was put to use.

Victim: Subadult Spinner Dolphin, 1.85m. She had been tossed about in the recent typhoon and was covered in cuts and scrapes along her pectoral fins, back, stomach and nose. She was extremely weak and could not control her buoyancy.

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Notice all the scrapes and cuts on her underside when I stuck my GoPro underwater to take a photo.

When I arrived a fisherman was in the water supporting the dolphin. He explained that he tried about ten times to return the dolphin to deeper waters, but she continued to return to the shallows. A crowd of people gathered on shore to watch.

How do you rescue a dolphin?! Luckily just one year ago myself and my Filipino counterpart completed a Dolphin First Responder Course (think CPR course where your dummies are actually trained dolphins. Read the Blog here) At the time I never expected to actually get to put our training into practice.

Rescue Protocol Summarized:

  1. Approach with care – 1-3 rescuers only
  2. Give supportive care – support the dolphin in an upright position
  3. Protect the blow hole, eyes, and pectoral fins – protecting the blowhole is most important so the dolphin can breathe
  4. Minimize noise – manage crowding spectators
  5. Assess condition and appropriate determine response
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Peace Corps Life…often means working in an office where losing electricity is just part of the experience but today it meant riding in an ambulance alongside a typhoon-injured dolphin!

We decided to transfer the dolphin to our Marine Breeding Station for recovery away from the still turbulent post-typhoon waters. With the help of local police and government officials the dolphin water placed onto a stretcher and loaded into an ambulance for transport.

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The dolphin was placed in a saltwater holding tank. Wet towels and frequent splashes were placed on her back to keep her skin moist, even so it started to become dry and wrinkled by day 2. The life jacket was essential, without it our weakened dolphin would fall to the bottom of the tank unable to resurface for air.

How does a dolphin drink? Although dolphins live in the ocean they need water without salt to stay hydrated. Once our dolphin was safely in a tank we began to worry about dehydration. In the wild, dolphins get enough freshwater by eating fish. Despite our best efforts Sara (they named the dolphin after me once they found out it was a girl) did not want to eat any fish. Next, Ma’am Rita tried to hold her mouth open while I spooned in ice cubes, but Sara spit those out too. Our only option was force feeding a fish/ice smoothie:

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Two towels were inserted into her mouth which Kuya Casear (yellow) and Kuya Albirth (green) used to hold her mouth open. After snapping this photo I held her body as tightly as possible to prevent movement, while Ma’am Rita (under veterinary guidance) inserted a feeding tube and pumped in fish smoothie.

By Day 2 We thought that Sara, the dolphin, was improving but then on the morning of Day 3 her cuts started to look infected. Dolphins are conscious breathers meaning they must choose to take each breath and cannot ever sleep like we do. Instead they rest one hemisphere of their brain at a time, while the other side remains awake and breathing. When Sara died on the evening of Day 3, I would guess that it was a combination of stress from losing her family and living in a foreign place, superficial infection, and physical weakness from typhoon-sustained injuries. We conducted a necropsy before burying her remains and photos/reports were submitted to the Philippine Marine Mammal Stranding Network for analysis.

Dolphins are extremely intelligent. They live in groups called pods and can communicate via clicks and calls. The brain of a dolphin contains 3xs more spindle cells, used for feeling emotions, than human brains have. They can recognize themselves in a mirror.

Today, dolphins are threatened by fishing nets, habitat destruction, and chemical pollution. The underwater explosion of illegal dynamite fishing can damage a dolphin’s hearing so that it cannot hunt for food. Although our dolphin did not survive, I hope that our response led to greater public awareness to the need to protect both dolphins and their habitat. And should another dolphin wind up injured on our beach, this community is ready to respond!

Lahat ng mga dolphin at whales dito sa Pilipinas ay nasa tala ng nanganganib na species sa ilallim ng Fisheries Administrative Order No. 208 in 2001. Kaya illegal lahat ng aksyon na sangkot ang mga dolphin at whales at sino mang mahuhuli ay papatawan ng pinakamataas maparusa. Kung may makikita kayong dolphin at whales na stranded agad-agad tawagan ang Ofisina ng Provincial Agriculture 5393567 (cell 09088662872 or 09487339431) at Bureau of Fisheries 5676011 (cell 09399385006).

Life is Epic!

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Who has more spindle neurons: the dolphin or the human??

Cetaceans have a 3xs greater concentration of these brain cells than humans! Any guesses on the purpose of these valuable brain cells???

Spindle neurons are our social cells. They are the emotion processors of the brain and allow us to both feel love and know suffering. Dolphin songs and shrieks or the contagious nature of a human smile 🙂 Thanks to spindle neurons my blog can serve a purpose. And you can understand the story.

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Here’s a video link to my Epic in the Philippines thus far. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LGnYTM3tkX0

Life is epic! But it is also simple and whether you are American, Filipino, orca or humpback we share this planet so put those spindle neurons to use and find a cause you are passionate about. Did you know we receive greater happiness from giving than receiving?!

Me and my supervisor Nanay Rita at the Philippine Marine Mammal Stranding Conference in 2014
Me and my supervisor Nanay Rita at the Philippine Marine Mammal Stranding Conference in 2014

2nd Philippine Marine Mammal Stranding Network National Symposium

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I spent the past week in Subic Bay at a conference about Marine Mammal Stranding (http://www.oceanadventure.com.ph/symposiums-and-workshops/philippine-marine-mammal-stranding-network-national-symposium/). In the Philippines most strandings of dolphins, whales, dugongs…etc. are caused by toxins in the water, blast fishing, or entanglement. At the conference we talked about best practices for release, rehabilitation, and euthanasia of these animals and the decision making process involved in these 3 options. It was also a great opportunity to meet representatives from throughout the Philippines working in Coastal Resource Management.

We stayed at Ocean Adventure, similar to SeaWorld on a smaller scale, but also a marine mammal rehabilitation site.
We stayed at Ocean Adventure, similar to SeaWorld on a smaller scale, but also a marine mammal rehabilitation site.

I traveled with my Filipino counterpart Ma’am Rita and our participation was graciously funded by the College of Charleston’s Graduate Student Research Grants. At the conference I learned about the “Dynamite Girls,” 3 dolphins successfully rescued but unable to be released because of permanent acoustic damage due to illegal dynamite fishing. Because these dolphins cannot hear properly, they cannot echolocate; unable to find food they can no longer survive in the wild. Thus dynamite fishing, an illegal practice although still widely prevalent, poses significant risks to marine mammals in addition to the coral reef it blasts apart. I hope to use the “Dynamite Girls” as a youth mascot to inspire community action to reduce destructive fishing methods, protect marine mammals, and minimize personal environmental impacts.

The highlight of the conference was definitely the Marine Mammal First Responder course. If you have ever taken a CPR/First Aid course, imagine if your victim was now a dolphin! Here are some steps to keep in mind:

Approach with care
Approach with care
Protect the Blow Hole. Protect the eyes. Support the animal in an upright position.
Protect the Blow Hole. Protect the eyes. Support the animal in an upright position.
Keep the animal moist (use a towel). Protect from the elements (use an umbrella).
Keep the animal moist (use a wet towel). Protect from the elements (use an umbrella).
Move to a more ideal location as needed
Move to a more ideal location as needed. (We had a human serving as a dummy dolphin in this shot)
Exercise crowd control. Remember, human safety comes first.
Exercise crowd control. Remember, human safety comes first.

Why spend large amounts of money and effort to save one dolphin?!

Many people argue that limited conservation resources would be better invested in trying to reduce the blast fishing that caused the initial stranding event, rather than trying to save one dolphin that, in the case of the “Dynamite Girls” is not even fit to be released into the wild. However I disagree. If done properly, a marine mammal stranding event and rehabilitation or release has the potential for large environmental gains beyond the immediate animal. Dolphins, whales, sea turtles all fall into the category of charismatic megafauna, meaning large cute animals which generate lots of public support from kids to grandparents. I hope to teach about the value of ocean health, the threat of climate change, and the impact of pollution, all through the story of one dolphin.

Humans gravitate towards stories. Studies have found people are more likely to donate money or support after hearing the story of one child who lives in poverty and needs money for school tuition than when told of an entire nation of children who cannot afford schoolbooks. We like to know that we are making a difference and oftentimes problems like pollution seems insurmountable to the individual (google the North Pacific Garbage Patch!). But even a child can understand that reduce, reuse and recycle or “I don’t need a plastic bag” – at a grocery store, may help to protect the home of the dolphin that he/she just helped to save.

So if you like dolphins or sea turtles learn about the ocean that they live in and see what small actions you can take in your daily life to keep it healthy!