(ran NS S editions of TAMPA BAY & STATE)
He was discovered along with 18 other dolphins beached in knee-high water almost four weeks ago. His mother died in the midst of the rescue. His prognosis was dim.
Now Springer, the baby of the bunch, has sprung to life.
"He is like a little boy," said Colleen Doyle-Murphy, a volunteer at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium where Springer is being nursed. "He just likes to play around."
Since his rescue, the 10-month-old dolphin has become more agile and active, said Dennis Kellenberger, the aquarium's executive director. Even though Springer can't eat solid foods, he has gained 13 pounds.
Aquarium staffers have been feeding Springer a formula of nutrients every three hours. They use a funnel attached to a hose to pour the formula down his throat. He first weighed in at 40 pounds.
Springer has learned to do 360-degree spins in the air and has become more playful with the trainers and volunteers who swim with him, Kellenberger said.
"He swims around you." said Doyle-Murphy, who swam with Springer for an hour Thursday. "He has to be right in front of you wherever you go."
Springer will sometimes try to race against whoever is in the pool with him, said Melissa Harman, the head trainer.
Whether Springer will be released back into the gulf is not yet known. Aquarium staffers are waiting for him to start eating solid foods.
At first, Springer would immediately spit out the squid and fish he was offered. Lately, he has been keeping the squid or fish in his mouth before letting it float out, Harman said.
"Now it doesn't seem like a negative thing for him," she said.
Four other dolphins were taken to the aquarium after their rescue. They were later released, only to be found dead the next day on Anclote Island.
Springer never bonded with the other dolphins, Harman said. Whenever he would try to rub against the other dolphins, they would swim faster or push him away.
"I guess (they did it) to give him the idea that we don't want you," Harman said. "Rubbing or touching is a way dolphins show companionship or loyalty."
At least 12 of the 18 dolphins that were stranded are dead. The fate of the five that were released the night they came ashore is unknown.
Although his weight gain and increased activity are signs of recovery, Kellenberger doesn't want to get too optimistic.
Springer is the only Stenella clymene dolphin to be kept alive in captivity in the country, he said.
"They can all of a sudden take a turn for the worse," Kellenberger said.
HOW TO HELP
The Clearwater Marine Aquarium needs donations and volunteers. For information on volunteering, call 441-1790, ext. 30. For donations, dial ext. 21 or 28.