GULFPORT, Mississippi -- A nearly dead dolphin found in Alabama in November is recovering at the Institute for Marine Mammal Studies and yielding data that may help explain 630 dolphin strandings that have occurred in the northern Gulf of Mexico since February 2010.
Moby Solangi, director of the institute, said he is not at liberty to talk about details of what has been discovered as the dolphin named "Chance" has been nursed back from the brink of death after being rescued Nov. 24 from near a marsh at Fort Morgan.
"What we can say is it has revealed some significant information," Solangi said.
"Finding this live dolphin was like finding the black box from an airplane after a crash," he said.
Solangi said he is barred by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration from discussing details gathered from the dolphin because it's part of the Natural Resource Damage Assessment process related to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010.
The Natural Resource Damage Assessment determines damages from the spill.
The dolphin strandings began Feb. 1, 2010, which is before the oil spill was unleashed April 20, 2010, in the Gulf of Mexico.
The strandings, which have occurred from the Texas-Louisiana border to the Florida Panhandle, have been declared an "Unusual Mortality Event."
As of Tuesday, 630 stranded dolphins have been counted and only 5 percent have been found alive, according to NOAA's Office of Protected Resources.
The 2½-year-old dolphin in Alabama, which was hours away from dying when it was discovered, is doing well, Solangi said.
"It is still recovering," he said. "It is still on antibiotic treatment, but it is no longer in any critical condition. It is more in a rehabilitation phase right now."
The dolphin is being kept in a quarantine pool at the institute where visitors must don facemasks and step through disinfectant before entering.
The 235-pound dolphin has gained about five pounds, Solangi said. Adult dolphins normally weigh from 400 to 500 pounds, he said.
"It wasn't really our issue," Solangi said of the weight gain. "Our issue was to get him healthy because unless an animal is healthy he is not going to gain any weight. It has started to gain just a little bit, but not enough to start having celebrations."
Chance had substantial parasite woes, and continues to be de-wormed, he said.
"It is going to take several more months of rehab," Solangi said of the dolphin's health outlook.
"He still has a lot of skin issues," he said. "We are still not out of the woods on any communicable disease. Even though he is being treated, we are waiting on some other results to see if there is a possibility that he may be harboring a communicable disease that could affect other animals."
NOAA announced in October that brucella bacteria was found in stranded bottlenose dolphins. As of Jan. 5, of 33 dolphins tested, 10 were positive or suspect positive for brucella.
Brucella bacteria are commonly found in marine and land mammals. The bacteria can cause abortion, brain infection, pneumonia, skin infection and bone infection, according to a NOAA fact sheet.
Solangi said institute crews have recovered four dolphins this month -- three in Mississippi and one in Alabama.
The Mississippi strandings were at Deer Island, Bay St. Louis and Biloxi. The Alabama stranding was at Orange Beach, he said.
By Harlan Kirgan