New Orleans: Earlier this year, we reported on a stranded bottlenose dolphin on Grand Isle Beach last October. The dolphin was brought to Audubon Nature Institute for evaluation and treatment. It was found that the rough seas associated with Hurricane Patricia likely contributed to the stranding of the 6.5-foot-long juvenile male. It remains unknown how long the dolphin was stranded on the beach before he was discovered.
In the months that followed, the dolphin, named “Octavius” in a nod to the Audubon veterinarian caring for him, responded well to treatment and was cooperative in observation and evaluations. Octavius underwent testing of his senses to ensure that his stranding was not due to any hearing or vision problems. The hearing test, called an “auditory evoked potential test” was administered by Dr. Dorian S. Houser, Ph.D., Director of Conservation and Biological Research for the National Marine Mammal Foundation. Check out a video of Dr. Houser administering tests and rescue footage here.
In order to determine if a rescued animal is eligible for release, specific milestones mustbe met. Firstly, he was required to pass behavioral clearance. Audubon’s Stranding and Rescue Coordinator Gabriella Vazquez explained: “Octavius showed no signs of abnormal swimming, breathing or diving behavior. Importantly, he had not become desensitized to humans – which is crucial because human interaction with dolphins in the wild can be a problem.”
Finally, Octavius passed medical clearance, including blood work and veterinary examinations, showing no signs of medical issues that would hinder his ability to survive in the wild. “This is a truly notable event,” explained Mandy Tumlin, the Louisiana State Stranding Coordinator for marine mammals and sea turtles. “Dolphins can be deemed non-releasable for a variety of reasons, such as a medical condition that may hinder their ability to survive.” Tumlin further explained,
“Animals can often become dependent on humans for food and other resources following time in rehabilitative care. Dolphins are very intelligent animals. Over time, they can learn to associate humans and boats as a source for food, which is why it is illegal to feed them in the wild.”
On April 28, Audubon Nature Institute and the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries (LDWF) in coordination with NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service and Chicago Zoological Society’s Sarasota Dolphin Research Program released Ocavius into Barataria Bay. The dolphin is the first to be rescued, rehabilitated and released back into the wild off Louisiana’s coast.
Octavius had a tag affixed to his dorsal fin which will allow staff to monitor him in real-time via satellite and radio tracking. “Audubon and LDWF have been working tirelessly to care for Octavius,” said Vazquez. “While there is still more critical work to be done with post-release monitoring, we have given this animal the best chance for a successful return to the wild.” LDWF Secretary Charlie Melancon added,
“While this animal is not completely out of the woods, this is a remarkable story demonstrating the success of our strong partnership with Audubon Nature Institute, working together to preserve this species for future generations. We are happy to be able to return this animal to the wild in its natural environment.”