Locals concerned about dolphin deaths in Goose Creek

Locals concerned about dolphin deaths in Goose Creek

GOOSE CREEK, SC (WCSC) - Major concern after two dolphins swimming in the Back River have died.

On June 13 Wayne McFee, a spokesman with the National Ocean Service (NOS), a branch within NOAA, said the agency was notified about three Dolphins seen swimming near the Bushy Park Boat Landing near the Naval Weapons Station on Red Bank Road in Goose Creek.

Matt Berry works in the area and noticed the Dolphins swimming in the Back River and tried to contact the proper authorities.

"Two that I saw looked fairly large and then one small, which tells me it could have been a mother and father and their calf," Berry said.

He added he's frustrated that marine experts didn't take the necessary action to prevent the deaths.

Thursday the National Ocean Service announced two of the three had died since they began monitoring them at that time.

Berry said that's unacceptable.

"They've had more than enough time to do something about it," he added. "It's almost been a month."

Emails to the National Ocean Service date back to the first day of the sighting.

McFee originally said the agency would monitor the trio with the hope they would move out of the fresh water by early that following week.

"There are times when dolphins have been found in fresh water," said South Carolina Aquarium Educator Meghan Galipeau. "We have a lot of brackish water, which is a mix of fresh and salt from the influences of our rivers."

According to Galipeau, it's not uncommon to see this happen here in the Lowcountry, but it does come with some consequences.

"If they were to stay there very long, you would start to see some problems arise for them with their bodies, because their bodies are built to be in salt water," she said.

While Galipeau wouldn't comment regarding the incident in the Back River, she said dolphins may travel into fresh water for certain reasons.

"They move around in our region at different times of the year, that's usually following a food source," she said. "They may also be moving to different locations if females are bringing their calves into shallow, more protective waters from predators, and of course mating."

Galipeau added this area of North America sees Atlantic bottle-nose dolphins who thrive in salt water primarily.

In an email correspondence on June 15, McFee said they had started to see "some discoloration on one of the dolphins' bodies".

Berry said he knows what fresh water can do to dolphins after helping out with a rescue effort nearly 10 years ago, at the same location.

"They were their normal color, but they had a whole bunch of lesions all over their body," he said. "In the process as they were being loaded on the trailer there was someone putting an antibiotic ointment on top of their lesions."

Berry described that relocation effort as "simple"; two dolphins were corralled into the shallow area of the water, and then moved from the fresh water, over to the salt water, across the road.

"[They] hauled them across the road and turned them loose with a few people who basically walked down with them to make sure they swam away," he said. "It took about four hours".

Many boaters and fishers at the landing Thursday recalled that relocation effort from years ago.

On June 24 Allison Garrett, a spokeswoman with NOS, said they would not be intervening at that time, citing concerns over water depth and the safety of the rescue team and the animals.

"The water is 35 feet deep, our deepest net is 18 feet," Garret said.

NOS again stated, "We are going to continue to monitor the Dolphins with our partners in the area, but again we don't see anything preventing them from leaving the waterway and don't think we can facilitate a safe intervention right now."

"Any time we're approaching animals in their natural habitat we're disturbing them, and taking away from them their natural behaviors," Galipeau said. "That's very stressful for them. Moms are protecting their calves, they're looking for food, avoiding predators."

Now one dolphin remains swimming in the inlet.

The National Ocean Service believes the others died of natural causes, but due to decomposition and extreme scavenging there are no plans to do a necropsy, a non-human autopsy.

Berry is now hoping to spread the word about the issue.

"It's a sad situation… that um… should have been taken care of," he said emotionally.

The spokesperson with the National Ocean Service said there are no plans to relocate the remaining dolphin.

It is against federal law to approach dolphins within 50 yards on the water.

It's considered harassment and you could face a fine.

"Dolphins do get a reputation for being friendly and cute, but they are very strong powerful creatures," Galipeau said.

Marine experts say it's best to stay away from wild animals out of the safety for them and yourself.

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