Babyface the dolphin isn't in the clear, but signs are promising that the deep propeller gashes on her back and tail will continue to heal, officials said.
On Tuesday, Clearwater Marine Aquarium staff monitored the dolphin, a 9-year-old female, as she swam in John's Pass. Video captured by aquarium staff late last week shows Babyface moving with ease. She doesn't appear to be losing weight, said Executive Director David Yates, and is foraging for food on her own.
"She is doing well," Yates said. "Surprisingly well."
After the dolphin survived her initial injury two weeks ago, biologists and researchers turned to their next pressing concern: starvation. Dolphins have a high metabolism and must eat frequently, but compromised mobility from a severely injured tail could prevent them from catching fish, said Ann Weaver, an animal behaviorist who has been studying the dolphins that live in John's Pass for a decade.
She has known Babyface since the dolphin was a baby. Weaver gave her that name, after the dolphin's mother, who had a dorsal fin that resembled a human silhouette.
Yates said the team of people monitoring Babyface go out at least four to five times in a rescue boat. Nearly every time they have looked, the team has found her.
There are still no plans to rehabilitate the dolphin in captivity, Yates said. As long as Babyface can "do what a dolphin does in the wild," she will be left alone to heal in the waters of John's Pass.
The team monitoring Babyface hasn't gotten close enough to give her injuries a thorough inspection, but they can tell from her behavior that the wounds are healing, Yates said. It could take months for the deep cuts to completely heal.
"We're very hopeful," he said.
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration officials ask the public to call in any Babyface sightings to 1-877-942-5343, but refrain from approaching the dolphin or feeding her. Contact with humans could disrupt her healing, Yates said.
Contact Katie Mettler at email@example.com or (813) 226-3446. Follow @kemettler.