We received a call on Mother's Day about a dead dolphin down in the Mackay Creek near Pinckney Island in Port Royal. Despite DNR's best efforts in searching for the animal, they were not able to locate. We received another report later that night of the same animal with exact GPS coordinates. The following morning, DNR officers were able to find the animal and tow it to a nearby boat landing. Nicole Principe and NOAA contractor, Bonnie Ertel, met the DNR officer, as well as LMMN volunteer Jerrie Legare, at the boat landing. It was clear right away this animal had been deceased for several days already and was in an advanced stage of decomposition.
The dolphin was transported back to the NOS necropsy lab where a full necropsy was conducted. In cases like these, where the animal is in an advanced stage of decomposition, it can be really challenging to determine a cause of death. While we still collect a handful of samples, what's more important in these cases is to record species, total length and age class, sex, where it stranded, and note anything glaringly unusual, especially evidence of entanglement or human interaction. This allows us to track trends over time in the number of strandings each year, whether it's a higher number of males vs females, adults vs calves, etc.
This was our 22nd stranding so far this year, which is on par with the previous two years.
It's not always an easy or glamorous job, but it's an important way to monitor the health of our population. Huge shoutout to Lauren Rust, Bonnie Ertel, Jerrie Legare, Jackson Sanders (NOAA), Maggie Knight (LMMN volunteer), and Colin Perkins-Taylor (CofC grad student) for assisting on this case!