2008-07-17 / Front Page

Bottlenose dolphin washes up at Mackerel Cove

By Adrienne Downing

Beachgoers were spared a direct view of a bottlenose dolphin that washed up Sunday on the east side rocks at Mackerel Cove, but a citizen climbing there spotted the beached mammal and reported it to the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management.

"The DEM took the call and then passed it on to us," Cindy Davis, a biologist with Mystic Aquarium, said.

The aquarium sent two biologists to the area Monday to collect information and report their findings to the state. "We were looking at things like how old the dolphin was, how decomposed the body was, if there was any evidence that there was any trauma to the animal, if we could tell what the cause of death was," Davis said.

She reported that the dolphin was a sub-adult female. "That means that she was almost an adult, but not quite."

Davis said that the cause of death could not be determined because the dolphin had died long before washing ashore. "Her skin was no longer light grey and smooth like it should have been. It was dark, leathery and sunburned. She was just too far gone for us to really be sure what happened."

After being examined by the biologists, the dolphin was removed from the rocks by the DEM, with assistance from the Jamestown Highway Department, and buried locally.

Bottlenose dolphins are not extremely common in Rhode Island waters, generally preferring warmer waters to the south, but Davis said they are aware of at least one school of coastal dolphins and one offshore school. "There are three types of dolphins in this area. The Atlantic white-sided dolphin, the common dolphin and the bottlenose, but of those three, the bottlenose is the least common," she said.

Adult bottlenose dolphins can range anywhere from 6- to 13- feet and weigh from 330 to 1430 pounds. Most live approximately 20 years, but some have lived as long as 50 years.

Dolphins are curious by nature, and sometimes their curiosity can lead them into places where harm can come to them.

"If you see a dolphin, you should not interact with it. Sit back and enjoy nature, but don't do anything that could cause harm to the dolphin or yourself," Davis said. "These are wild dolphins, not trained ones and they will do what they need to do to protect themselves. Their tail fluke is powerful and dangerous and they could hurt someone with it."

They also have razor-sharp teeth that they rake along other dolphins and they could exhibit the same behavior with humans, Davis added.

Although this dolphin was deceased when it came ashore, Davis said that live mammals have beached in the local area. "It is human nature to want to help, but if you come across a stranded dolphin do not try to push it back in the water. They are usually beached for a reason."

Mystic Aquarium operates a 24-hour marine animal rescue hotline to report stranded animals. "Contact us right away to report strandings, because with live animals time is often of the essence. We can guide someone on what to do and often we have someone local from our trained volunteer force who can be on scene until we arrive," Davis said.

To report a stranding, call 1- 860-572-5955, ext. 107.

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