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Effort to release dolphin from behind Chiquita Lock fails

By Staff | Apr 17, 2015

It’s back to the drawing board for the NOAA Fisheries and Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

Marine mammal specialists with the commission spent three hours at the Chiquita Lock on Friday attempting in vain to free a dolphin that has been trapped behind the lock gates since April 4.

Time is of the essence, an expert said, since the animal is in brackish water and dolphins are by nature very social animals.

According to Blair Mase, a member of the NOAA Fisheries Marine Mammal Health and Stranding Response Program, said her team monitored the animal to see if it would go off on its own.

While it approached the lock a couple times and the team, along with law enforcement officers, tried to coax it through, the dolphin did not make it through, so they stood down, Mase said.

“It seems the tides were not in our favor as they dolphin was swimming against it. We’ll try this again next week when the tides are more favorable,” Mase said.

But while the dolphin has been seen eating and appears OK, there is a sense of urgency to get the animal back into open water.

Dolphins are wild, social animals that need to be with other dolphins. Plus, the salinity levels in the brackish water may not be enough for it to survive for a long period of time, Mase said.

“If the water is mostly fresh, it can take a toll on the animal’s health. We have time on our side, but we don’t want to wait too long,” Mase said.

Mase said if they can’t coax the animal through next week, they may have to try to capture the animal, which would be a huge undertaking.

“We will try that if all else fails. Our main concern is the animal’s prolonged exposure to fresh water and the social issues,” Mase said.

Mase said since boat traffic is slow, there is little danger of the dolphin having a mishap with a powerboat.

The gates of the lock remained open between 9:30 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. as officials tried to coax the dolphin through the lock and into open water.

Boat traffic was suspended during the attempt to decrease the chances of the dolphin getting spooked.

Bottlenose dolphins are protected by federal law. NOAA Fisheries Service is the agency with jurisdiction over dolphins.