Riverhead Foundation: Gowanus Dolphin Had 'Chronic Ailments'

Necropsy results indicate that the dolphin likely died due to natural causes.

A dolphin that had scores of residents rallying for its survival after it became stuck in the Gowanus Canal on Friday likely died of natural causes, according to Riverhead Foundation for Marine Research and Preservation experts.

Kimberly Durham, rescue program director for the Riverhead Foundation, said the necropsy on the dolphin, known as a common dolphin, was conducted on Sunday.

The lost animal reportedly stopped moving after getting stuck between a rock and a pillar below the Union Street Bridge shortly after 5:30 p.m. on Friday.

The male common dolphin measured seven feet in length and weighed over 343 pounds, she said.

"The findings from the necropsy revealed chronic ailments such as gastric ulcers, kidney stones and parasites," Durham said. "There was no evidence that the animal was feeding and the body condition was noted as thin. Findings are considered preliminary, as samples will be sent out for microscopic analysis."

Durham added that although some have speculated that the dolphin may have died from toxins in the water, its death was likely caused by the chronic illnesses it was facing.

In response to the public backlash the Riverhead Foundation has faced by some who have questioned why more wasn't done to help the dolphin, Durham said there are many factors to consider.

"Emergency responders told us that if something were to happen, they would not send their crews in for our staff," she said.

First responders, Durham said, have to assess risk and ascertain whether or not it is safe to allow Riverhead Foundation staff in to try and help in rescue situations.

Other factors such as low tide, which created an abundance of mud and a lack of accessibility, played a part, Durham said.

"With any live animal, we have to wait," she added. "Intervention is the last resort. Intervention in this case could also have led to the dolphin's mortality."

 In addition, Durham said, common dolphins do not handle as well as other, more widely known, dolphins, such as the bottlenose dolphin.

"The public has a very romantic view of dolphins, but they are wild animals," she said. "The experience with common dolphins is not the same."

Looking back at other recent attempts to save a baby beached whale that washed up in East Hampton, Durham said the the first of the two whales that washed up, a female finback whale which was already dead when it beached in East Hampton, was found to have blunt force trauma consistent with a vessel strike. 

The smaller, pygmy sperm whale, which was euthanized, was found to be suffering from a severe intestinal infection, peritonitis, and ulceration of the stomach, Durham said.


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