Dolphin returns to wild after 6-month rehab

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SAN DIEGO — A dolphin rescued from a beach near Tijuana in May has returned to the ocean and was swimming some 300 miles from shore today, according to SeaWorld San Diego.

The 1-year-old common dolphin named T.J. was believed to be near death when it was brought to SeaWorld May 14. The dolphin was severely dehydrated, malnourished and couldn’t swim on his own, and SeaWorld staffers doubted he would survive.

“His body condition was poor, he was initially unresponsive, and he was unable to swim or eat,” said  Todd Schmitt, SeaWorld’s senior veterinarian. “Although we knew he was very ill, we immediately began medical treatment to try to pull him back from the edge.”

Park officials said they built a special device to keep the dolphin buoyant, gave him antibiotics, spoon-fed him a formula of electrolytes and nutrients, and monitored him 24 hours a day.

“This was an extremely weak, emaciated, lethargic animal, and it was important we were there to give the support it needed,” said Jody Westberg, the park’s stranded animal coordinator.

T.J. was able to eat small fish about a week after he was brought in and he slowly recovered, according to SeaWorld. He was even taken to a hospital for an MRI to look for neurological disorders — tests that were negative.

Park officials said he gained 10 pounds and became stronger by August, so they began to let him forage for food again — a skill the mammal needed to demonstrate before being returned to the wild.

He was fitted with a tracking device and released Oct. 8. near a pod of dolphins, about 20 pounds heavier than in May.

“The day we returned T.J. to the wild was the accumulation of a lot of emotions for me,” Westberg said. “The time, the effort, the energy, the passion the people I work with put into rehabilitating this common dolphin — it all came to fruition in that one moment when we were able to give this dolphin a second chance at life.”

He was monitored 30-80 miles off the coast for the first few days. On Monday, he was about 300 miles west of San Diego, according to SeaWorld.

The Hubbs-SeaWorld Research Institute plans to monitor the dolphin’s progress, location and depths of his dives for the next several months. The transmitter will eventually fall off.

Pam Yochem, the institute’s executive vice president and director of physiology and ocean health programs, said researchers will be able to take the collected data and compare it to other information, such as water temperatures to learn about dolphin habitats.


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