Stranded Dolphin Deemed Poor Candidate For Rescue Perishes in Toxic Sludge

By Kirsten Massebeau

Gowanus Dolphin: saddest thing ever.Just when I thought this week couldn't possibly get any worse, I saw the stranded dolphin in the Gowanus Canal and it made me profoundly sad.  Photo by Shelley Bernstein

Gowanus Dolphin: saddest thing ever.
Just when I thought this week couldn’t possibly get any worse, I saw the stranded dolphin in the Gowanus Canal and it made me profoundly sad. Photo by Shelley Bernstein

On January 25th the world woke up to the news that a dolphin was stranded and struggling in the Gowanus canal a narrow inlet off the Brooklyn Harbor. Huffington Post released images and an article that brought forth tears from people worldwide as visuals of a dolphin in toxic sludge struggling to stay afloat were released. The article, “Dolphin In Gowanus Canal: Animal Stranded Near Union Street in Polluted Waters” was immediately picked up by dolphin advocates who shared the article on Facebook, Twitter and G+ asking people to call a marine mammal hotline asking why the dolphin had not been rescued. Riverhead Animal For Marine Research and Animal Rescue took callers numbers and stated that they were waiting to see if the dolphin would refloat at high tide which wasn’t until 7pm. Many were unsatisfied with this answer as it seemed obvious the toxic water was taking its toll. Draped in sludge the dolphin floundered for hours as witnesses stood watch on the bridge. Police, biologists, Riverhead Foundation, and National Marine Fisheries observed as the dolphin struggled to stay alive through-out the day but no action was taken.

Gowanus Dolphin Video by Carlos Jimeno/David Kirby

As people waited for word on the Gowanus dolphin hours passed by.  Finally David Kirby, Author of “Death at SeaWorld” published a post on Take, “From Bad to Awful: Gowanus Canal Dolphin Dies”. In his post David describes the terrible conditions this dolphin faced, “The animal, an adult common dolphin, looked stuck in the thick toxic mud, but was actually able to move around in the three feet of water that fills the canal at low tide. Clouds of brown-green goo would rise from the bottom as the stranded animal moved about”. It seemed impossible that this lonely dolphin had been left to a terrible death in the toxic muck of the Gowanus Canal”.

Riverhead Foundation spokesperson Rob Di Giovanni kept his word and attempted to return each phone call and email regarding the dolphin. Many people had called up in arms about how the scenario had played out. Rob stated that he felt people were not looking at the situation realistically. He said there was a criteria they followed that determined whether or not a cetacean was a good candidate for rescue: 1) Is this animal coming to shore to die? 2) What is the least invasive way to help the animal without startling it? 3) Where will the animal be placed once it has been rescued? Sadly, the cards were stacked against this dolphin. He or she was not a good candidate for rescue. Covered with muck, bleeding, floundering, and distressed it looked near death. The tide was low another factor against the dolphin. They would not attempt a rescue at low tide. But lastly there was no room at the Inn. There was only one cetacean tank for rescues available at Riverhead and it was being used for a harbor porpoise, and there wasn’t another tank  for hundreds of miles so where would the dolphin have gone?

Thinking dolphin: Diana Reiss at TEDxSanJoseCA 2012

It is heartbreaking situations such as this that point out how unprepared the United States government is for cetacean rescues. Instead they rely on private companies like SeaWorld or unprepared, and financially strapped marine mammal rescue foundations like Riverhead. Todays dolphins are known to be higher beings with large brains, that live in complex societies. With that in mind we have to wonder if this dolphin disoriented and suffering heard the voices of humans and mistakenly thought this meant help. Help to be rescued or help to at least die in clean water. Was it a day of waiting for that helping hand, a hand that would never come. Unlike the dolphins that have rescued so many humans over time the favor would not be returned. Instead he or she was left to drown in the toxic sludge of the Gowanus Canal.

Gowanus update: One man came forward to comfort this dolphin. Follow the link to Candace Calloway Whitings blog and watch the video Gowanus Dolphin Knew a Moment of Compassion Before Dying.

16 thoughts on “Stranded Dolphin Deemed Poor Candidate For Rescue Perishes in Toxic Sludge

    • You are so right Mike! Our primary topic on Champions has been Taiji drive fisheries but the plight of this one dolphin was terribly sad. Anytime people stand by indifferent to dolphin suffering it must be exposed. I am hoping though that people interested in this story will read the many other post here on Champions that are about Taiji.

    • Hi Mike this is Ed, I am also responding to your comment on what is happening in Taiji vs. what occurred in NY. We started this blog based on the impact increased naval activity which could include explosives and sonar would have on cetaceans off our coast here in Oregon. Kirsten has & continues to be a primary force in the war to stop what you term barbaric practices @Taiji. A far greater threat to cetaceans is that of military & oil exploration sonar. Have included a most recent article on the issue and why we will continue to actively oppose any and all efforts that impact the sustainabilty of cetaceans.

  1. You have got to be kidding me!! This is unexceptable!! This toxic mess needs to be cleaned up ASAP!!! Who is resposible for the mess I no there are laws to protect our enviroment. Some one needs to be held accountable!!!

  2. Mystic Aquarium is not that far away. They could have been contacted for help or tank space. What a tragic waste of life, completely unnecessary.

  3. Pingback: Stranded Dolphin Deemed Poor Canidate For Rescue Perishes in … | Our Endangered Planet and it's Wildlife.

  4. Pingback: Stranded Dolphin Deemed Poor Canidate For Rescue Perishes in Toxic Sludge | Our Endangered Planet and it's Wildlife.

  5. Absolutely spot on! Also worth mentioning that this is not an isolated incident but rather a pattern of how Riverhead responds to live strandings every time.

    • Don’t say anything about the Taiji Dolphins more! That’s such a shame to Americans that I will not believe it. How can they stay and watch the Dolphin dronwn?????? Was the water too dirty so nobody wouldn’t go down and help the Dolphin?

  6. Shame shame shame! And everyone was just watching on the bridge, how can they sleep at night, they could have saved him, what a fucked up world it is.

  7. Hi
    Pls publish list of all who did nothing, & stopped others from doing anything, to try & help the #GowanusDolphin ;
    -Riverhead – Rob DiGiovanni +? Scientists names?
    -NMF – who makes these arrogant callous decisions?
    -any NY ‘dept of environment’ staff?

    Time to name & shame.
    Thank you


  8. Reblogged this on Family Survival Protocol and commented:
    I am ashamed of the way human beings treat these incredible creatures. I am ashamed of their inability to care enough to at least do the humane thing and try to rescue this poor creature. I am ashamed, so very ashamed of the callousness and uncaring attitude towards these creatures that we should be protecting.. Poor thing allowed to suffer all those hours because they could not be bothered.
    When will this stop?
    When will they understand?
    When will they be held accountable for their crimes?

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