By Kathryn G. Menu; Michael Heller photography
A young, female short beaked common dolphin was euthanized Friday afternoon after two days of swimming in Sag Harbor Cove. The dolphin was starving and suffering from severe gastrointestinal issues, according to officials from the Riverhead Foundation for Marine Research and Preservation.
According to Melissa Martin, press coordinator for the Riverhead Foundation, the dolphin was corralled to the shore Friday afternoon with the aid of the Sag Harbor Fire Department Dive Team after swimming in the cove, often in a lethargic state, for more than a day. After assessing the physical condition of the dolphin, Ms. Martin said Foundation officials determined the best course of action was to euthanize the animal.
“Based on its condition, they decided to euthanize the animal,” said Ms. Martin, adding the dolphin’s remains were then taken back to the Riverhead Foundation for necropsy.
The dolphin was spotted by Riverhead Foundations in Sag Harbor Cove around 8:30 p.m. on Thursday, after a resident spotted the mammal earlier in the evening. Riverhead Foundation officials responded to the scene, as residents also began watching the dolphin, which eye witnesses reported ceased moving at times or swam just a few feet here or there, but largely remained in the same place. Due to the condition of the dolphin, Riverhead Foundation officials considered euthanizing it that night, and called the Southampton Town Police Department Dive Team for assistance.
According to Ms. Martin, Foundation officials originally believed the dolphin may have been a bottlenose dolphin and expressed concern that it may have been infected by a measles-like marine mammal virus that has plagued dolphins on the East Coast of the United States since last year, and has been responsible for a number of deaths.
Plans to euthanize the dolphin were called off Thursday night after it appeared to rebound and began swimming into a larger body of water and appearing more energetic, said Ms. Martin. Foundation officials agreed to instead monitor the animal’s health before intervening.
“Now the protocol is to let it do its own thing and that is what we need to do to see if it is healthy,” she said in a phone interview Friday morning. “They will intervene only when they absolutely need to and would be looking for signs of illness in that case.”
And intervene officials did, after the dolphin appeared to be in distress again Friday afternoon, swimming close to shore in the cove, drawing in crowds of residents concerned about the animal’s welfare. It was euthanized at the scene.
On Tuesday afternoon, Ms. Martin said as the dolphin was not a bottlenose dolphin, but actually a short beaked dolphin, Riverhead Foundation officials have all but ruled out the measles-like virus as being the cause of its illness.
“The common short beaked dolphin is not one of the marine mammal species that has been impacted by that virus outbreak,” she said, adding Riverhead Foundation officials have still sent out tissue samples from the necropsy for testing.
Initial reports from the necropsy show that the young dolphin was staving and suffering from parasitic gastrointestinal issues, leading it close to shore and explaining its lethargy, said Ms. Martin.
“As a result, it was suffering from starvation,” she added.