Wednesday, July 15, 2009

A dolphin's tail tells the tale

Look closely at the bottom right corner of the photo to see the ball of fishing line trailing behind this poor dolphin. Note the resulting damage to her tail. In this shot, she waits for Larry to free her. Photo courtesy of Cheryl McClure.

This dolphin chose her rescuers well.

Larry McClure had been hanging off his boat's swim ladder treading water 30 miles into the Gulf of New Mexico when an indigenous resident of the seas came calling.

The Atlantic bottlenose dolphin circled the boat for 45 minutes before the retired United Airlines pilot and experienced diver figured out what she was angling for. A ball of monofilament -- more commonly known as fishing line -- had wound around her tail, and the rest of the ball still trailed behind it. The flukes on her dorsal fin were being shredded by the synthetic fiber, and parasites had started to take root in the decaying flesh.

"She came right up next to me and stopped," Larry told me when I was in Sarasota, Florida recently. "I really feel like she came to ask for my help. It had to be a hindrance to her ability to catch fish. Conceivably she might have starved to death."

The 1,400-pound creature depends on her tail to help her catch small fish and squid.

Larry was wearing full diving gear. He and his wife Cheryl have been diving for 15 years, and each have more than 500 dives under their belt. While Larry dove underwater and went to work on freeing the dolphin's tail, Cheryl -- a professional photographer -- captured the moment indelibly on film.

Larry held the tail with his left hand while he hung onto the swim ladder with his knees. With his right hand, he began to slowly unwind the fishing line from her tail. She didn't move and watched him work. As he got near to the end, the last bit was embedded. The dolphin began to get nervous as if she was in pain, and decided it was time to take off.

Larry grabbed hold and pulled as she swam away.

"I felt confident I got most of it off."

Dolphins are famous for showing curiosity towards humans who are in or near water, and have been known to rescue people. There are stories of dolphins using their bodies to bob injured divers close to the surface to save them from drowning.

This time, the people returned the favor.

1 comment:

Shelly Patton said...

Great story, Carreen. It is amazing that the dolphin allowed herself to handled.