OKALOOSA ISLAND — A one-year-old bottlenose dolphin who became stranded on the beach after Hurricane Nate is counting its lucky stars after being rescued by Good Samaritan beachgoers and Emerald Coast Wildlife Refuge technicians.
Shelby Proie, Marine Mammal Stranding Coordinator at the refuge, said she got a call just before 4 p.m. Sunday from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission about a beached dolphin. The FWC said beachgoers searching for shells on Princess Beach after the storm had stumbled upon the live stranded bottlenose dolphin and called them.
“She was almost at the dune level, so that tells you how high the storm surge must have been,” Proie said.
Refuge workers arrived quickly and checked the dolphin’s vital signs, which appeared to be stable. Proie said it appeared the dolphin had simply become too exhausted fighting the rip currents and storm surge brought by Tropical Storm Nate and had washed up on the shoreline.
“The surf was so high we couldn’t even see if there was a pod or a mother out there because the waves were so huge,” she said.
She said the quick thinking and immediate action from the beachgoers who found her likely saved the dolphin’s life.
“They definitely did the right thing by calling FWC,” Proie said. “FWC got a hold of me, and then FWC was able to instruct them to put a wet towel, or in this case a wet shirt, over her and keep her nice and moist and try to stay as far away as possible until we could arrive.”
Proie called Gulf World Marine Institute in Panama City Beach, which is licensed to rehabilitate cetaceans such as whales and dolphins, and workers from Gulf World arrived at Princess Beach at around 7 p.m. Proie said officials from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration instructed them to take the dolphin to a rehab center instead of immediately releasing it back into the Gulf because the heavy rip currents and storm surge were expected to continue for some time.
Proie said she spoke with Gulf World officials Monday morning, who told her the dolphin was doing “very well” and had been “very active” at its facility overnight. Veterinarians will continue monitoring the dolphin’s health and, when she is ready, plan to release her back into the Gulf of Mexico.