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Stranded dolphin pulled from mud

Published Feb. 27, 2006

The tide was receding fast Sunday morning as Chris Marshall kayaked into Old Tampa Bay, cold winds whipping him in the face.

Marshall, 49, had seen a bottlenose dolphin stranded about 200 yards offshore, called authorities and paddled out to wait for help to arrive.

"I didn't feel like it was right to sit there and watch," he said. "I had to do something."

Marshall, a tinsmith by trade, talked to the 10-foot-long female dolphin, stroked its skin and splashed it with water to keep it wet. The wind stung his hands, so he held them underwater, and waited.

About two hours later at 10:45 a.m., rescuers arrived. By then, the tide had pulled out, leaving behind nearly impassable muck.

Rescuers first tried to walk on the mud but sank to their waists, said Dr. Janine Cianciolo, senior veterinarian and director of animal care at Clearwater Marine Aquarium.

"It just sucked you down," Cianciolo said. "It was quite an ordeal."

They found it was easier to crawl, aided by their kayaks. Once they reached the dolphin, they rolled it onto a stretcher, then laid it on a large foam mat. Cianciolo estimated that the animal weighed about 600 pounds.

The rescuers, pulling the dolphin on the mat, began the journey back through the mud to the shore, where a crowd of 200 had gathered to watch.

"It probably took about an hour, but it seemed like forever," Cianciolo said.

The dolphin was lifted into a truck. There was no room at Clearwater's aquarium so she was taken to Mote Marine Aquarium in Sarasota, where it was receiving care.

Cianciolo said an examination found the dolphin had some lesions on its skin, indicating an infection, and appeared to have some respiratory problems. By evening, the dolphin had received antibiotics and was swimming on its own. The worst fear, cancer, was ruled out.

As for Marshall, he went home, took a warm shower, thawed his hands and poured a shot of brandy to warm his insides. He flipped on the television and watched the Olympics.

"I just wanted to relax after that," he said.