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.