Tuesday, 28 June, 2011
by Bo Petersen – The (Charleston) Post and Courier
JOHNS ISLAND, S.C. — The bottlenose dolphin had been out there for three days, stuck in a pluff mud flat off Bohicket Creek. Neighbors watched from their docks as she swam in circles at high tide then writhed on the exposed bottom in low tide.
“She was just floundering,” said Gordon King, one of the neighbors, of the stranding a few weeks ago. With each tide, they hoped she would swim free. But she didn’t. They tried to reach her but just sank in the muck. They called for help and the National Ocean Service’s marine mammal stranding program was contacted.
By the fourth day, “We thought we were going to get a dead dolphin,” said Wayne McFee, stranding program scientist. Too many low tides in the sun, too little to eat. After a spring of chasing one dead dolphin stranding after another – more than 30 since late February – program staffers didn’t have much hope.
They found a badly sunburned, 2-year-old female who just wanted out. She was 50 yards from the deepwater creek. At the highest tide, there was a passage, but the maze of clumps of high ground grass she just couldn’t find it. At high tide, they tried to chase her out with the boat, but she dropped to deeper water to wait them out.
They came back on the fifth day, with a Charleston County Rescue Squad airboat, S.C. Natural Resources wildlife biologists and a DNR veterinarian. They tried to reach her when she was stranded on the mud at low tide, but the airboat got stuck, too. The noise terrified her. There was only one other way. They put on the boots and mucked it up, working along on a rubber mat with a sling.
“She didn’t struggle. She didn’t fight. She didn’t try to get away,” King said. When they had her on the nearest dock, an examination showed her to be in good shape. After dealing with three dozen dead dolphin, the chance to return a healthy one to the water was way past due. They carried her to the dock’s deepwater mooring.
“She just swam away,” McFee said. “It was very rewarding.”