Injured dolphin found dead off Manatee County coast - WFLA News Channel 8

Injured dolphin found dead off Manatee County coast

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© Photo by Sarasota Dolphin Research Program.  Photo taken under NMFS Permit #522-1785. © Photo by Sarasota Dolphin Research Program. Photo taken under NMFS Permit #522-1785.
© Photo by Sarasota Dolphin Research Program.  Photo taken under NMFS Permit #522-1785. © Photo by Sarasota Dolphin Research Program. Photo taken under NMFS Permit #522-1785.
MANATEE COUNTY, FL (WFLA) -

Scientists from the Sarasota Dolphin Research Program have observed area dolphins for decades.

Dolphins are longtime residents, they grow up and raise their families in the same areas over many generations, and one of them was a male named ‘Otter'.

Dr. Katie McHugh with the Sarasota Dolphin Research Program said, "We had seen him many times over the years, over 800 times since 1980."

Otter was used in groundbreaking research. Thanks to him, we now know male dolphins make close friendships with other males that last for years.

But on July 15th, he was spotted in Palma Sola Bay in horrifying shape. The scientists say not long ago, a boat propeller sliced his back.

"There were 17 slices ranging from 6 to 12 inches long," said Mote Researcher Gretchen Lovewell. "It was obvious when he came to the surface that something was wrong."

It's an injury so horrible it likely impacted his ability to eat.

Lovewell said, "The muscle that it cut is responsible for moving his tail."

Over the following days, rescuers tried to recover Otter but they had no luck. On July 20th, he was found floating dead at Palma Sola Bay.

Dr. McHugh said, "It's sad to think that one of the guys that we're used to seeing out here all the time  is just not gonna be there anymore."

And it's a tragedy that's preventable. Federal regulators suggest you stay 50 yards away from wild dolphins.

Researchers say on average, wild dolphins near Sarasota are approached by boaters once every six minutes, so it's important to keep an eye out and keep your distance.

Scientists say if boaters constantly hover near them, it could disrupt their natural behaviors, or hurt them, as in the case of Otter.

"It's ok to be curious and want to watch them, but watch them from a distance," said Lovewell.

It's important to remember that we are just visitors at their home, and we should leave the locals just as we found them.

"Whenever humans are either implicated or the cause of death, it's especially hard because you don't ever want to see an animal suffer at our hands," said Lovewell.

Follow John Rogers on Twitter: @WFLAJohn

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