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Female dolphin undergoes surgery

Vet removes fishing line from fin

By Kevin Lollar

The News Press

11th March 2004

Blood dripped quickly and pooled on the ground behind a Mote Marine Laboratory pump house Wednesday as the scalpel carved dead tissue from the bottlenose dolphin’s right pectoral fin.

Charles Manire cuts away infected and
dead tissue from a dolphin’s right pectoral fin
on Wednesday.
Because the wound is so severe, the possibility
remains that the dolphin, named Toro,
could lose that fin.

Photo by Mote Marine Laboratory
(Special to

Toro, named for Bull Bay in Charlotte Harbor where Mote researchers caught her Tuesday, was the victim of monofilament fishing line, which had wrapped around and sliced into the dorsal and right pectoral fins.

As volunteers held the sedated female dolphin on a padded table, Charles Manire, chief veterinarian at Mote’s Dolphin and Whale Hospital, started cutting at 8:45 a.m. Wednesday.

“We’re turning what was a chronic wound into an acute wound so we can treat it,” Manire said. “It will look worse when we’re done than when we started.”

Mote researchers first saw the 6-foot-long Toro, who is about 2 years old and weighs 198 pounds, Feb. 20 while doing other studies in the harbour.

Several strands of monofilament were twisted around Toro’s fins, and infection had set in; algae growing on the line indicated the dolphin could have been entangled for months, said Randy Wells, director of Mote’s Center for Marine Mammal and Sea Turtle Research.

“I can’t begin to tell you how many times the line was wrapped around,” Wells said. “Maybe a dozen. It was embedded in the flesh.”

Toro also bears scars from other encounters with fishing line and is an example of a growing monofilament problem.

“I can’t quantify it, but subjectively, my opinion is that a lot more dolphins are being injured by recreational fishing line,” Wells said. “We see a lot of these animals with monofilament injuries. We’re lucky when we find one still swimming around alive.

“I’m sure that not one recreational fisherman out there is trying to harm these animals. I hope all this fishing line gets out there accidentally, not just people discarding line into the water.”

How anglers can help dolphins

Stay at least 50 yards from wild dolphins. It is a US federal offence to threaten, harass or feed wild dolphins. (Dolphins in UK waters are protected by similar laws)

Check fishing gear. Make sure line is in good condition so it won’t break easily and end up in the water.

Stow used line. Collect all used line and any line broken off while fishing and dispose of it properly.

Intentionally throwing monofilament line into state waters is illegal.

“People need to understand the damage line can do,” Wells said. “Out of sight, out of mind is not an appropriate approach.”

After spotting the otherwise healthy Toro several times, Mote staff decided to take action.

Mote’s preference is to catch an injured dolphin in a net, remove the fishing line on the spot, treat the wounds and release it.

“Bringing dolphins here is the last resort,” Wells said. “We don’t want them to get too used to people, and we don’t want to run the risk of transporting them.”

But when scientists tracked Toro down Tuesday, they realized the preferred method was not an option.

“She was hanging in there — she hadn’t started crashing, but she was close to it,” Manire said. “She was so close to the edge that in two days, she could have been dead. If the infection gets into the blood stream, it kills her in 12 to 24 hours.”

By 9:10 a.m. Wednesday, Manire had finished cutting; at 9:15, volunteers were walking Toro around in a 30,000-gallon tank; at 9:23, she was swimming on her own.

“We trimmed away a lot of that dead tissue; the bleeding has stopped, and she’s awake,” Manire said. “Now we’ll watch her and deal with the acute wounds and infection instead of the chronic stuff.”

Until she is healed, Mote staff and volunteers will catch Toro every day, clean the wounds and administer antibiotics and anti-fungal medicine.

A close up shot of the injury to Toro’s
right pectoral fin caused by fishing line.
This picture was taken before Dr. Manire
operated on the wound.

Toro will also receive an alternative treatment:
A device that emits infrared light will be placed
near Toro’s wounds. The infrared light will create
heat in the tissues to stimulate blood flow and help
the wounds heal.

Manire recently used the infrared device to
treat third-degree sunburns on Jack, a
bottlenose dolphin that got stranded in
October near Jacksonville.

Photo by Mote Marine Laboratory
(Special to

In Jack’s case, the wounds on which infrared was used healed more quickly than those on which it wasn’t used.

“It hasn’t been scientifically proven,” Manire said. “As a scientist, I need a control to say whether it works.

“In my opinion, it definitely helped. I’m convinced, and I’m a very hard person to convince.”

Jack is scheduled to be released Friday from Amelia Island.

On Wednesday, Toro’s prognosis was guarded.

Despite Mote’s efforts, Toro’s right pectoral fin might need to be amputated.

“We still might be able to release her if we amputate,” Manire said. “We have seen dolphins in the wild with one fin. It would be an experimental release: We’d follow her closely, and we might have to bring her back in.

“But it’s got to be easier to survive with two fins, so we’ll save it if we can.”