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Missing Dolphins Return to Gulf Coast

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Missing Dolphins Return to Gulf Coast

Katrina & Beyond

Missing Dolphins Return to Gulf Coast

Missing Dolphins Return to Gulf Coast

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Melissa Block talks with Jeff Foster, marine biologist with the NOAA fishery service, about eight dolphins that went missing after Hurricane Katrina but miraculously found their way home. Foster has been spearheading the NOAA effort; he pulled in a couple dolphins Thursday.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

Among the many structures demolished when Hurricane Katrina tore through the Gulf Coast was the Marine Life Oceanarium in Gulfport, Mississippi. Many of the creatures there were swept out to sea: fish, sea lions and eight Atlantic bottle-nose dolphins. Then this week, a surprise: The dolphins were spotted at the mouth of the Port of Gulfport. Dr. Moby Solangi is the oceanarium's director.

Dr. MOBY SOLANGI (Director, Marine Life Oceanarium): I was in a helicopter on Saturday morning. The sheriff's department was helping us out. Our initial reconnaissance hadn't been very fruitful on the water, so I just took off. And as soon as I got to the mouth of the harbor, I saw eight dolphins. We thought they looked like ours. I called in the boat, and the trainers confirmed it. And it was extremely a joyous occasion.

BLOCK: Well, tell me about that moment when you realized that these eight dolphins, you must know very well, were back.

Dr. SOLANGI: Well, it was just a miracle. You know, for them to have--these are all domesticated animals. Some of them are captive-born. They didn't have any hunting skills or the skills to survive in the wild. Yet they had survived 10, 12 days without food and, best yet, come right back home.

BLOCK: So you figure when they were on their own, when they'd been blown out of the oceanarium, they were not able to eat on their own?

Dr. SOLANGI: No, Ma'am. They had lost weight. They were hungry. We had fish food on the boats, and since then we've been feeding them three to four times a day.

BLOCK: And what's the response when you go out there on those boats to feed the dolphins?

Dr. SOLANGI: Oh, they just jump up and down; they rub the trainers and, you know, do flips. I mean, it's just incredible.

BLOCK: How else do they look? Are they in OK shape?

Dr. SOLANGI: Well, they seem to be fine. We took out two. We had taken some blood samples on them, and--we got them this morning, and we've taken the two to a swimming pool to the Holiday Inn. And we're waiting on the Navy to provide us with some of their temporary pools that we will house them, quarantine them. And once they look better, we'll send them to other aquariums.

BLOCK: And which two dolphins were these?

Dr. SOLANGI: These were Jackie and Toni; these are mother and daughter. The daughter's about 17 years old, and the mother is about 30.

BLOCK: Thirty, wow. Where do you figure these dolphins went in those first 12 days after the storm?

Dr. SOLANGI: They were probably many, many miles from the shoreline. And as the thing started clearing and the debris being washed away and the water quality getting better, they probably headed towards the beach, and that's where they found us.

BLOCK: And they knew how to get back?

Dr. SOLANGI: I have no idea how they found us, how they stayed together in this incredible storm.

BLOCK: So they all clustered, you figure. They managed to stay--it's called a pod of dolphins, I think.

Dr. SOLANGI: Exactly. They stayed together. And I'm sure if they could talk, they would tell their story.

BLOCK: Now there are still six dolphins out in the harbor. Is that right?

Dr. SOLANGI: That's correct. And we're going to work on them again tomorrow to see if we can get one or two more.

BLOCK: So your hope is to bring all of these dolphins into shore, check them out.

Dr. SOLANGI: That's correct, and ship them to other aquariums.

BLOCK: Do you think you'll be able to keep all eight of them together?

Dr. SOLANGI: Well, that's what our hope is, and I'm sure that we'll find a place to do that.

BLOCK: You think that's important for them?

Dr. SOLANGI: It is. They stood by together, and I think it'll be important for us to keep them as a group. They were always a group, and they stayed as a group in that big tank for many, many years. So I think that was what kept them together and alive.

BLOCK: Well, Dr. Solangi, the dolphins, I guess, will be moving on. What about you? Where do you go?

Dr. SOLANGI: Oh, no, we're going to be here, and we're going to rebuild.

BLOCK: Well, Dr. Solangi, thanks so much for talking with us. We appreciate it.

Dr. SOLANGI: You bet.

BLOCK: That's Dr. Moby Solangi. He's director of the Marine Life Oceanarium in Gulfport, Mississippi. He says some of their sea lions have also been rescued. They were found in hotel swimming pools near the shore.

ROBERT SIEGEL (Host): There's a photo gallery of the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina at our Web site, npr.org.

(Credits)

SIEGEL: I'm Robert Siegel.

BLOCK: And I'm Melissa Block. You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.

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