A dolphin showing clear signs of distress in shallow water off Davis Neck on Sunday night will likely die, according to experts, but its death would probably bare no significance to the population.
A man reported to police and New England Aquarium officials seeing the small dolphin swimming in tight circles in about 2 to 3 feet of water Sunday about 5:30 p.m. Davis Neck is off Hodgkin’s Cove in Gloucester’s Bay View section.
New England Aquarium Media Relations Director Tony LaCasse called the swimming pattern “distressed swimming,” and said the movement is commonly seen in newly weaned dolphins that become malnourished, which happens to a small portion of a healthy dolphin population.
“That kind of behavior is usually a precursor to an animal that is very near death,” LaCasse said. “This is also the time of year when you can get animals that have been weaned ... the young ones that have been on their own for part of the summer and into the fall. If they don’t have good foraging skills, a lot of younger animals are undernourished and will usually get some kind of disease that will finish them off.”
LaCasse said though aquarium officials did not see the animal because the aquarium dispatches volunteers and employees only during daylight hours for these types of cases.
Still, based on a description of a long beak and relatively small forehead on the animal, aquarium officials determined it was in fact a dolphin, not a harbor porpoise.
LaCasse urges members of the community to call the aquarium hotline if they see the animal, alive or dead, near shore.
“The value for us is that if we have a fresh carcass, then we can do a necropsy on it to ask the question that you asked, if there’s any reason for concern,” LaCasse said. “We use all these necropsies as kind of a public health watch on these animals.”
A dolphin carcass washed ashore on Cape Hedge Beach in Rockport last Sunday night, but the body floated back out to sea by the next morning, before aquarium officials were able to see or collect it.
LaCasse said if necropsies show a high number of emaciated, malnourished dolphins in a specific area, aquarium researchers would look into the cause of the malnutrition.
Marjorie Nesin can be reached at 978-283-7000 x3451, or firstname.lastname@example.org.