(April 12, 2021) --

Dr. Jennifer Bloodgood examines a dolphin calf discovered stranded on Thursday, March 25. (Courtesy: DISL/ALMMSN)

The Alabama Marine Mammal Stranding Network Responded to a deceased baby dolphin on the beach in Gulf Shores, Alabama on Thursday, March 25. The calf was a male bottlenose dolphin, estimated to be a few days old. The dolphin had multiple lacerations to its abdomen. This mutilation was suspected to have been inflicted after death.

“When ALMMSN staff responded to the dolphin, it was clear right away that the damage to the animal’s abdomen was not caused by a shark bite or other natural cause,” stated Stranding Coordinator Mackenzie Russell. “It appeared that a person had repeatedly stabbed the dead dolphin with some type of sharp object.”

A postmortem examination was conducted at the Dauphin Island Sea Lab’s Marine Mammal Research Center. 

“This young dolphin likely died from pneumonia. We confirmed that the dolphin was already deceased when it was mutilated. Fortunately, in this case, we were able to determine the cause of death despite the mutilation, but tampering with a carcass or altering the scene can make our job more difficult,” said ALMMSN Veterinarian Dr. Jennifer Bloodgood.

“We take these problems seriously and want the public to understand that handling any marine mammal, dead or alive, can be dangerous and may cause problems for the stranding network investigators,” said Russell. 

Marine mammals, including dolphins, whales, and manatees are protected in the United States under the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA). It is unlawful to harass, hunt, capture, collect, kill, or feed any marine mammal. ALMMSN is the MMPA authorized state network for the response and recovery of sick, injured, and deceased marine mammals.

Lacerations on the belly of the stranded dolphin calf discovered on Thursday, March 25. (Courtesy: DISL/ALMMSN)

Data collected by the Alabama Marine Mammal Stranding Network response team helps researchers understand why marine mammals live strand or are found deceased. The team is trained to recognize and evaluate stranded marine mammals for signs of human interaction, like mutilation. 

Bottlenose dolphins that live in and around the bays, sounds, and estuaries on the Alabama coast give birth between February and April.  Young dolphins, such as this newborn, may undergo complications from birth or be born with health issues that lead to death. Historically, ALMMSN responds to a high number of young, deceased dolphins washed up on shore during calving season. 

“We ask the public to help us by reporting all strandings to ALMMSN and not approaching animals on the beach for their safety and that of the animal,” says Dr. Bloodgood. 

If you find a sick, injured or deceased marine mammal in the Southeast US, please call 1-877-WHALE-HELP (942-5343) as soon as possible. Never push a stranded animal back into the water because it can prevent trained responders and veterinarians from providing timely care. 

Anyone with information regarding the harassment of or harm to a marine mammal is asked to call the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration’s Law Enforcement hotline at 1-800-853-1964.