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Dolphin stranded in Sutherland Bayou euthanized after rescue attempt

CRYSTAL BEACH — The old female dolphin was partially blind and missing many of her teeth.

She had been hit by a boat, then attacked by a shark.

By the time rescuers got to her Tuesday, she was in severe distress and stranded in Sutherland Bayou. Yet, "We were hopeful," said Andy Garrett, a biologist with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

But as the hours passed, the dolphin's chances for survival continued to drop. About 5 p.m. Tuesday, rescuers euthanized the 8-foot, 4-inch long dolphin after they determined she was too seriously injured to be transported to a rehabilitation facility.

Rescuers from the conservation commission, Clearwater Marine Aquarium and the University of Florida Aquatic Animal Health Program worked for several hours to save the dolphin, which had injuries consistent with being hit by a boat propeller and bitten by a shark.

"She was probably hit by a propeller within the last week or so, based on three wounds on her back, behind where her dorsal fin would be. One of the shark bites took out about 60 percent of her dorsal fin," said Mike Walsh, associate director of the UF Aquatic Animal Health Program.

Rescuers found out about the dolphin about 11:45 a.m. Tuesday after getting a call from two off-duty Pinellas Park police officers who were out fishing, Walsh said.

Rescuers tried to stabilize the dolphin, but she would go into "panic mode" each time they tried to move her onto a transport vessel, Walsh said.

Garrett said his agency received a report about an injured dolphin in the Dunedin area on Saturday, but rescuers were unable to locate it when they went out on a search. It's possible Tuesday's dolphin was the same one, he said.

Crystal Beach resident Brad Hultgren, who viewed the rescue attempt from his home, said nine people in two different boats were out with the dolphin for several hours, spraying water on it and trying to hoist it into one of the boats.

"It's an interesting thing to watch these people …," he said. "What's remarkable is how much they love the animal."

Hultgren noted the irony about the rescue attempt coming just days before Friday's premiere of Dolphin Tale, a major motion picture about the rehabilitation of Winter, a tail-less dolphin rescued by the Clearwater Marine Aquarium and taught to swim with a prosthetic tail.

Rita Farlow can be reached at farlow@sptimes.com or (727) 445-4157.

Dolphin stranded in Sutherland Bayou euthanized after rescue attempt 09/20/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, September 20, 2011 7:54pm]
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