MADEIRA BEACH — A baby dolphin ensnared in fishing line was rescued Tuesday morning near John's Pass after spending months tangled in the cord.
The 6-month-old calf was first spotted in July with his mother off the coast of John's Pass by ecologist and dolphin researcher Ann Weaver. She was doing research at John's Pass, where scientists often study bottlenose dolphins.
As he leaped and bounded through the waves, Weaver said she noticed something wrong: He was tangled in cord. He needed help.
But then the dolphin disappeared.
For more than three months, she wondered if the baby dolphin had been able to dislodge the fishing line on its own.
On Oct. 21, the dolphin was spotted again. It was still caught in the cord.
The line, which had been pulled tighter with time, was cutting deeply into its mouth and dorsal fin. Weaver immediately organized a rescue.
Tuesday, after three failed rescue attempts in as many weeks, a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration team finally cut the calf free.
The rescue team, led by Randall Wells of the Chicago Zoological Society, was able to find the calf and his mother shortly after sunrise about a quarter mile off the Veteran's Park boat ramp.
The team was able to restrain the calf in the water just before 10 a.m. and cut through the fishing line. The cord was wrapped around the dolphin like a bridle, running through its mouth, around its flipper and dorsal fin. The line had made deep cuts into the dolphin's fin, jaw and cheeks.
It took the rescuers 14 minutes to untangle the cord, give the calf an antibiotic injection and release the dolphin back into the Gulf of Mexico, officials said.
He immediately swam over to his mother, who had been circling about 10 to 20 feet away, exchanging clicks and whistles with her calf.
Once mother and calf were reunited, researchers said the pair "went back to being dolphins," frolicking in the water. NOAA spokeswoman Allison Garrett said in a news release that the calf had a good attitude and was in good health.
"We have high expectations for him," Garrett said.