CLEARWATER, Fla. (WFLA) — The Clearwater Marine Aquarium welcomed a new non-releasable bottlenose dolphin to its care Friday.
The roughly 5-year-old female dolphin, named “Izzy,” was rescued in June 2022 by NOAA partners after she endured years of illegal human interaction which caused her health to decline.
“We are so pleased that Izzy now has a safe place to call home and that she will stand for something,” said Heidi Whitehead, Executive Director of the Texas Marine Mammal Stranding Network. “Izzy belongs in the wild but despite our persistent efforts to protect her over the course of three years, she became increasingly habituated to humans and boats putting her at high risk for serious, life-threatening injury.”
CMA said Izzy was first spotted alone in December 2019 in canals near a neighborhood in North Padre Island. Izzy quickly became a popular attraction where the public would seek her out to swim with, ride, jump on, feed, and pet her.
CMA added those experiences were shared across social media and encouraged others to interact with her. Eventually, Izzy, named after the Island or Isla, started showing dangerous behaviors toward people and had signs of injuries likely caused by a collision with a boat.
“It’s extremely disappointing that human behavior took away Izzy’s ability to live safely in her natural habitat,” said Kelly Martin, VP of Zoological Care at Clearwater Marine Aquarium. “We will take our time with Izzy and let her tell us when she is ready to be introduced to her new social group with Hope and Apollo,” Martin said. “Above all, we want to establish trust and ensure she is safe and healthy.”
Clearwater Marine Aquarium is currently home to four resident bottlenose dolphins and two rough-toothed dolphins.
“We knew Clearwater Marine Aquarium would be a great fit for Izzy because of their experienced animal care staff, veterinarian team, and also because of the social group already established with Hope and Apollo,” said Erin Fougères, Marine Mammal Stranding Program Administrator for NOAA. “We know that Izzy’s experience will serve to teach others about the dangers of interacting with wild dolphins. “