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June 23, 2008

With a little BITT of luck

Posted: 11:57 AM ET

A noisy, 450 pound scared mother. A terrified three- year old, possibly in pain, not only separated from mom but now surrounded by 30 strange creatures.

But wait. This one has a happy ending.

Veterinarian Dr. Juli Goldstein (with visor) examines the young dolphin, as rescue supervisor Steve McCulloch holds up the belt that was stuck around its neck. Photo: E. Murdoch, Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute

After nearly 14 hours of trying, a team of scientists, veterinarians and rescue staff from Florida's Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute successfully removed a car fan belt stuck around the neck of a young dolphin calf late Thursday.

The entangled male calf was first spotted June 6. From that initial sighting, Steve McCulloch, program manager for the Marine Mammal Research and Conservation Program at the Institute in Fort Pierce, started the complicated logistics of gathering boats, people, equipment, and, oh yeah, finding this poor critter again when its range covers 40% of Florida's east coast.

The rescue team found the mom and baby in the midst of about 80 other dolphins Thursday afternoon.

McCulloch said some deft boat maneuvering by Captain Larry Fulford managed to separate the mom, named BITT, and her son, known as c1BITT (BITT's first calf) from the others in the group. They were in about four feet of water in the Indian River Lagoon near Melbourne.

The rescue team had to act fast.

"Young dolphins, especially young males, can show very high stress," said McCulloch. He said they can even die from "capture shock."

First, the marine mammal experts released Mama BITT from the net.

"She was showing some definite un-Flipper-like behavior," said McCulloch.

But like a good mother she waited just a few yards away, trading encouraging whistles with her son. McCulloch cut off the hard rubber automotive belt. Veterinarian Dr. Juli Goldstein did a quick physical exam, and gathered some tissue for a DNA sample. She also put a tag on the youngster's dorsal fin so he would be easier to spot once he was freed.

"It's just a feeling of exhilaration, the entire team was just jubilant. It was a huge relief that everything had gone safely and nobody got hurt," said McCulloch.

The efforts of the team from Florida Atlantic University saved this animal from a slow, agonizing death. Like human babies, young dolphins play with whatever they can put in their mouths. Usually it's mangrove roots or tree branches. But if a fan belt or a hunk of plastic or trash is floating around them, they'll play with that, too.

"What we do to the environment is reflected in these animals. We need to be careful," said McCulloch.

So the next time you think about litteringÔÇŽ think about whose baby you might be putting in danger.

Marsha Walton, CNN science and technology producer

Filed under: Animals • environment

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Franko   June 23rd, 2008 1:27 pm ET

We need dolphin laquage translator computers.

S callahan   June 23rd, 2008 3:56 pm ET

My daughter, who works for a VET will worship you guys when i show her this...nice job!!!

Franko you make my day..always something whitty to say ­čÖé

Franko   June 23rd, 2008 11:01 pm ET

Apes can learn Yerkish. Dolphins and Killer Whales, with their larger brains, might be more capable. Echo location is a different sense; visualizations, concepts, and their language could be based on sonar.

Give them a large flat screen TV, with very good surround sound, and see if they try to speak our language. Also, we could try to speak in sonar.

chad   June 24th, 2008 10:15 am ET

Thats an awesome story! Thank god there are people who care about this stuff and can act on it. It frightens me to think of how much junk has been cast into the ocean. Seems like our planet is getting angrier by the minute.

Franko   June 25th, 2008 7:59 am ET

Maybe we could hire him as a Garbage Dolphin.
Minimum wage, 8 little fishes per hour.
But if they unionize and go on strike ?

s.c.   June 29th, 2008 10:11 pm ET

...some people in the bahamas are working on breaking the language barrier...

Franko   June 30th, 2008 7:10 am ET

Gimme the link

If Dolphins are smarter than us, then the Bible got it the wrong way around !
God really ment for Dolphins to slaughter humans ?

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