A MASS-STRANDING EVENT OF ROUGH-TOOTHED DOLPHINS (STENO BREDANENSIS) IN THE FLORIDA KEYS (FLORIDA, USA): I. RESCUE AND REHABILITATION

A mass-stranding event of rough-toothed dolphins (Steno bredanensis) occurred off of the Florida Keys on 2 March 2005. A total of 26 dolphins were transported to the Marine Mammal Conservancy (Key Largo, Florida) for rehabilitation. Upon arrival, all animals were individually captured for photo identification, blood extraction, physical measurements, blowhole, fecal, and mouth cultures, and feeding/hydration. Most of the animals were confined in natural habitat enclosures or artificial holding tanks, the latter used as critical care and quarantine areas. Their diets consisted of herring, mackerel, capelin, smelt, sardines, silversides, and squid, which were supplemented with vitamins. Many individuals also received physical therapy (electronic muscle stimulation and massage) and were trained for recall purposes only. Blood values, cultures, necropsies, and physical and behavioral observations indicated that many of the animals exhibited a wide range of infectious and non-infectious diseases, including dehydration, muscular atrophy, stenosis, pancreatitis, pneumonia, Fascioliasis, a protozoan parasitic infection, bacterial infections, spinal deformations, stomach and intestinal tract erosions, morbillivirus, peritonitis, cardiomyopathy, and various immune deficiencies. Animals were administered different combinations of broad-spectrum antibiotics, antifungal, antiparasite, and antinausea agents, antiulcer/GI protectants, and a histamine receptor antagonist. All diseases were successfully eradicated, and the response to each medication differed between individuals. There were no apparent allergic reactions to any of the medications and side effects were minimal. In addition, quarantines were effective in preventing the transmission of pathogens between hosts. Weight and length data indicated that the majority of animals increased in size and weight. The electrostimulation therapy was not as effective as manual manipulation and massage in the treatment of atrophy and deformation. On 3 May 2005, 7 dolphins were successfully released. This event was the largest, successful rehabilitation and release of cetaceans to date, and the data collected has contributed to our knowledge of a relatively cryptic cetacean species.