10,000 Island Dolphin Project
On December 28, as the Dolphin Explorer was returning to the dock from its morning trip we paused for one more sighting. This time something didn't appear right about one of the dolphins. Rangle, a dolphin we first identified in 2006 was milling around and staying at the surface rather more than is normal, as her two year old calf swam nearby.
At first glance, she appeared to have something on her head, but after a second sighting during the afternoon trip and a closer look at photos, it became obvious that she had sustained a rather gruesome injury to her head, specifically to a bulbous structure called the melon that projects outward from the skull.
As with Seymour, we reported her condition to Blair Mase, the Marine Mammal Stranding Coordinator for NOAA. Blair confirmed that a boater had reported accidentally striking a dolphin and asked that we pass on any photos of the injury. On December 31, she told me that another boater reported seeing Rangle at Caxambas Pass on the other side of Marco Island and that she did not appear to be doing well. Blair attempted to get someone with expertise to monitor Rangle but they were not able to be locate her to conduct the assessment at that time.
No one was terribly optimistic about her chances for survival.
Because we have a fairly extensive sighting history for Rangle in our database (195 sightings since 2006) we knew that her calf (Mocha) was approximately 2 years and 4 months old. This is significant because in our experience calves in this area generally stay with their mothers for at least three years and, in the event that Rangle did not survive her wounds, some steps might be taken to insure that this didn't become a double tragedy.
Almost two weeks passed and all of us feared the worse, when at the outset of our afternoon trip of January 12, we encountered Rangle, her calf and two other dolphins in Factory Bay near the Marco River Marina. The injury still looked ghastly though perhaps not so much as the first time we saw her and she appeared to be swimming more normally (diving and surfacing rather than staying at the surface.)
And this time her calf, rather than simply milling about in the vicinity stayed very near her mother and the two animals coordinated their movements which I saw as a hopeful sign.
Later in the trip we encountered Rangle again. She, Mocha and a third dolphin had moved up the Marco River and made the turn into the inter-coastal waterway.
I am not sure what plans, if any, are in the works to intervene on Rangle's behalf but I will report any news in this regard as well as future sightings when they occur.