Monday, August 13, 2007

New Home for Deaf Dolphin and You to Swim With!

Or click on this: Deaf Dolphin Finds New Friends

Deaf dolphin calls Dolphins Plus home sweet home

BY STEVE GIBBS Citizen Staff KEY LARGO — Castaway, a deaf Atlantic bottlenose dolphin relegated to public display, finally has a permanent home.

The dolphin, whose 3-day-old calf died June 15, has been moved to a natural seawater lagoon at Dolphins Plus, a research and education facility where visitors pay to swim with the dolphins. It was a long journey getting there. Castaway, named for the cove near Vero Beach where she stranded herself last November, was placed in isolation at the Marine Mammal Conservancy at Mile Marker 102.5 in January after rescuers learned she was pregnant. Her calf, named Wilson, was born on June 11 and lived almost four days. The results of a necropsy, done to determine the cause of its death, was not available at press time.

Because the National Marine Fisheries Service considers Castaway to be rehabilitated, the agency said she either had to be released or transferred to a facility that displays, not rehabilitates, dolphins. But she could not be moved to the Dolphins Plus lagoon immediately because a pregnant dolphin there is about to give birth at any moment. Due to the recent loss of her own calf, it would not be healthy to introduce Castaway into an environment where she would be exposed to another newborn calf, said Robert O. Stevens, director of veterinary medicine.

Castaway spent a few days alone in a 24-foot circular above-ground pool at Island Dolphin Care while Dolphins Plus erected a barrier to separate the lagoon. The pregnant dolphin, named "Dinghy," lives on one side with another adult female dolphin, while Castaway now resides on the other side with two other adult female dolphins, facility curator Art Cooper said.

Besides being deaf, Castaway's vision is impaired, Stevens said. "Her vision on her right side is not as good as her left. She turns her head and looks out of her left eye," he said. "We suspect she might also have neurological problems. She may have had a stroke. She doesn't have pattern recognition, so we suspect a neurological problem. "We don't know for sure," he added. "Because of her size, it has not been possible to get to a facility where they could use an MRI." The mammal weighs between 550 and 600 pounds. Dolphin advocates have been critical of the care provided to Castaway, saying social animals such as dolphins should not be kept in isolation. "We're not isolating her at our whim," Stevens said when Castaway still was at Island Dolphin Care. "[The U.S. Department of Agriculture] says we have to isolate her. It is not smart to introduce her into a strange group of dolphin — boom — like that." While she was at Island Dolphin Care, she was under the care of the Marine Mammal Conservancy's Robert Lingenfelser. "Socially she's doing just fine," Lingenfelser said at the time. "She was depressed for 2 1/2 weeks after Wilson died, but she seems to have recovered from that." Dolphin advocate Rick Trout, a former conservancy director, said he was pleased that Castaway has been moved. "I'm glad to see that she is no longer at [the conservancy], that she is ... where she should have been moved last January, with other animals," Trout said.

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