“Castaway” originally stranded on “Castaway Cove” (thus the name) near Vero Beach, FL on November 11, 2006. She is a female Atlantic Bottlenose dolphin (offshore ecotype) and is estimated to be 25-30 years old. She was transported to “Mote Marine Laboratory” (MML) where she was treated and rehabilitated until being deemed releasable by National Marine Fisheries Service.
An ultrasound exam at MML revealed that Castaway was pregnant in her third trimester. On January 30, 2007, MML working with the team from “Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute” transported Castaway back to the Vero Beach area and attempted to release her four times. Each time she drifted back to shore. The decision was made by the “National Marine Fisheries Service” (NMFS) to bring Castaway to the “Marine Mammal Conservancy” (MMC) in Key Largo. The MMC-facility is a large natural lagoon – an environment suited for Castaway. MMC’s task: to further rehabilitate her as well as to provide a safe place for her to have her calf.
When Castaway arrived at MMC she was very distressed and disoriented, even aggressive. But over the next several days she began to settle down and accept food. After only a few hours of being cared for by MMC, the senior staff noticed that Castaway did not respond to any acoustic signals the way dolphins usually do. She showed no reaction when the medical staff slapped the water with their flat hands to get her attention and did not turn when staff-members entered the water. The suspicion: Castaway could have a severe hearing problem. On February 18, 2007, David Mann, an Assistant Professor from The University of South Florida performed an AEP, (Audio Evoked Potential) test on Castaway and determined her to be deaf.
Castaway thrived under the care of staff at MMC and became an extremely healthy, social and robust dolphin. On June 11, 2007 after a very brief labor, she gave birth to a male calf who unfortunately survived only four days. Castaway underwent her post-partum transition with no real difficulty other than a temporary decrease in appetite.
In the weeks that followed, Castaway’s appetite returned; her condition and apparent well-being improved continuously in the care of MMC until she could be safely transported to Dolphins Plus.
Dolphins live in a world of sound and use their vocalizations and echolocation for interaction with other pod members as well as for finding food, navigation, and to avoid predators. Due to the fact that Castaway is hearing impaired and has unique learning patterns, NMFS deemed Castaway “non-releasable” and decided that she would ultimately reside at Dolphins Plus Research and Education Facility in Key Largo. This facility has a long history of providing permanent, healthy and happy home environments for non-releasable stranded marine mammals, as illustrated by Sugar, our rescued sea lion and resident family member since 1984. As a participating member of the southeast stranding network, Dolphins Plus has a moral obligation to care for all non-releasable stranded marine mammals placed in our care, regardless of their ability to participate in the interactive swim programs with the general public. Dolphins Plus is committed to the long-term care and proper socialization of Castaway with members of her own species at her own pace.
On July 25, 2007, in a mid-afternoon 8-minute transport, Castaway was relocated to Dolphins Plus. She is continuing behavioral enrichment to enhance her social skills, which will enable her to integrate smoothly into her new dolphin family. The attending veterinarian present during transport was pleased to note that Castaway handled the transition well. Once in her new surroundings, she accepted a meal immediately, which we feel is a testament to her calm nature and comfort level in her new environment.
Castaway currently resides with Sarah and Samantha, two adult female dolphins in a natural sea-water lagoon.
Castaway, as she has been named, is doing extremely well in her new environment. To learn more and follow the story take a look at the Marine Mammal Conservancy website.