10,000 Island Dolphin Project
The effort to assess whether Seymour's entanglement and associated injuries are life threatening and require human intervention has begun.
Since my last post, I e-mailed Kim-Bassos Hull, a Research Associate at the Sarasota Dolphin Research Program, and described Seymour's injuries and recent sighting history. Kim has worked for years on research and education efforts related to issues of the human impact on bottlenose dolphins such as feeding and entanglement in fishing line. At a recent conference on the Biology of Marine Mammals in Tampa, Florida she gave a presentation on this topic; "Entanglement Hotspots Along The Florida Coastline: A Need for Outreach and Action." As part of her efforts she helped develop and distributes this flyer on dolphin friendly fishing tips.
Kim forwarded this information to Randy Wells, Director of the Sarasota Dolphin Research Project, thus beginning the formal process of evaluating Seymour's situation and the neccesity and feasibility of intervening on this dolphin's behalf.
Dr. Wells then forwarded this information to Blair Mase of the National Marine Fisheries Service. This is an important first step as it it the NMFS whose permission is required to conduct a rescue of a marine mammal. As Dr. Wells explained in a 2008 essay,
"NOAA’s Fisheries Service (NMFS) is charged under the federal Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) with responsibility for reducing deaths and serious injuries of marine mammals from fisheries. NMFS is tasked with determining whether injuries from entanglement in, or ingestion of, commercial fishing gear, or other interactions with humans are likely to lead to mortality."
Should a rescue of Seymour be deemed neccesary and possible it is likely the folks at the Sarasota Dolphin Research Program would lead they effort. They have decades of experience in the capture, treatment and release of dolphins and, should surgery or rehabilitation be neccesary, the Mote Marine Lab and Dolphin Hospital is the likely place where this would occur.
Blair Mase contacted me and ask that we forward any pictures of Seymour's injuries to her. She explained that the first step that NMFS takes is to distribute the photos to vetenarians who will determine whether the entanglement and injuries are life threatening.
Blair was also interested in whether we could shed any light on Seymour's site fidelity. This is important because the NMFS will not initiate a rescue or permit a rescue attempt if the animal in question has not been seen in the previous week. The point here, I think, is that it is a huge effort, requiring the participation of dozens of people to mount a rescue attempt and there is little point in doing so if there is not a high degree of probability of finding the animal. I provided Blair with a link to our Dolphin Catalogue which documents the details over 200 sightings of Seymour over the past six years.
Those of us who work on the Dolphin Explorer as a part of the Sea Excursion's 10,000 Island Dolphin Project are now in the process of narrowing the search area for Seymour and we have had some success in this regard. Two passengers aboard the Dolphin Explorer, unprompted, asked us about a dolphin they had seen with an injury to its tail. Both people had spotted Seymour while visiting the Esplanade on Marco Island and looking out on Smokehouse Bay. This makes sense because while the Dolphin Explorer does not go that far back on our survey trips, we do look in on adjacent Collier Bay and have recorded recent sightings of Seymour there recently.
We have designed a 'wanted' poster with a profile a Seymour's fin and we are going to distribute this to the dockmaster at the Esplanade and to some of our local fishing charter friends in hopes that we can nail down specifically Seymour's range. In this way, if NMFS and SSDRP decide to launch a rescue attempt, we will be able to point them in the right direction.
Blair was also interested in the depth of the water in the area as any rescue attempt would require shallow water. With the exception of the channels, there is plenty of very shallow water in this area.
So until we hear from the vetenarians associated with the NMFS, it is watch and wait.