All eight dolphins that were swept from their aquarium tank into the Gulf of Mexico by Hurricane Katrina have been rescued. In a sense, they saved themselves. After the dolphins were located, their trainers taught them how to beach themselves onto mats so they could be loaded onto a boat.
Now the dolphins from the Marine Life Oceanarium in Gulfport, Miss., are all swimming safely in a Navy pool.
After four of the dolphins were saved last week, the other four suddenly disappeared. Rescuers searched for them for 48 hours before finding them 15 miles away near Biloxi. The dolphins may have moved because they encountered a predator or were otherwise spooked, said Tim Hoffland, director of training at the oceanarium.
After living in captivity, the dolphins were not used to hunting for their own food or fending for themselves. But these social animals stuck together and survived. They have some cuts and scrapes, and the second-youngest had a sting ray spine stuck in his forehead, but they are in good health considering the circumstances, Hoffland said.
"We're working on them gaining weight," Hoffland said. "A lot of them are pretty thin."
"The Gulf water is not real clear like it is in the Caribbean, so the dolphins really had to use all of their senses," Hoffland added.
Swept Away by a Tidal Wave
Moby Solangi, owner and director of the oceanarium, moved as many of his 14 dolphins as time allowed to hotels on higher ground. Three took up residence in the pool at Gulfport's Best Western, and three made the pool at the Holiday Inn their home during the storm.
The remaining eight stayed behind at the aquarium's pool "that has survived every hurricane, including Camille, and survived [Katrina] as well, but didn't survive the 40-foot tidal wave," Solangi said.
That wave swept away all eight dolphins. It also destroyed the pool, which will take 18 to 24 months to rebuild, Solangi said. The six dolphins who rode out the storm in hotel pools have all since been transferred to the Gulfarium in Fort Walton Beach, Fla.
Dolphins Recognized Trainers Right Away
For nearly two weeks, there were no signs of the eight missing dolphins. Finally, the head of the aquarium secured a ride on a sheriff's department helicopter and what he saw, after just five minutes, was surprising.The eight dolphins were swimming together in the Gulf of Mexico.
Immediately, the oceanarium's trainers were out on the scene, feeding their dolphins and plotting how to rescue them.
The dolphins recognized the trainers right away, Hoffland said.
"As soon as we saw them and they saw us, it was like 'where have you been for so long?' They were all over us," Hoffland said.