Bittersweet saga of the real Folly Beach baby dolphin
FOLLY BEACH — The rescue of a baby dolphin really was attempted on Folly Beach recently, it turns out.
Dolphins, turtles die in boat strikes
Not everybody out on the water last weekend was having fun.
A green sea turtle, a federally listed threatened species, died of a boat strike near Goat Island behind Isle of Palms. So did a dolphin and calf.
Meanwhile, a third dolphin died after it was struck on the Kiawah River; a juvenile loggerhead turtle, another threatened species, also died after being struck by a boat there.
And a dolphin was found Tuesday dead of a boat strike in Clark Sound.
Biologists who work with the species are urging boaters to watch speed and be cautious.
“Everybody says dolphin can get out of the way of a boat, but if you’re a mom with a calf, you’re slow-moving,” said Wayne McFee, National Ocean Service marine mammal stranding program scientist.
The two turtle deaths are not unusual for this time of year, said Dubose Griffin, S.C. Department of Natural Resources sea turtle nesting program coordinator.
So far, 13 turtles have died of boat strikes this nesting season.
“People most of the time are not aware that turtles are inshore too,” she said. “Keep an eye out inshore and offshore.”
Reach Bo Petersen at 937-5744, @bopete on Twitter.
Accounts of Brien Limehouse’s effort to save the stranded dolphin a few weeks ago circulated online after a photo of a baby dolphin on a man’s arm was posted on the Folly Beach page on Facebook last week and went viral, with thousands of people hitting the site.
An average of 52 marine mammals get stranded per year in South Carolina:
80% are bottlenose dolphins.
10% are pygmy and dwarf sperm whales.
Most live strandings are single animals that are sick and dying.
Most animals must be euthanized.
25% of bottlenose dolphins strand with evidence of human interaction, usually entanglements or ingested plastics.
Source: South Carolina Marine Mammal Stranding Network, Coastal Carolina University
But that photo was from a failed rescue attempt in Uruguay last year, stirring criticism and posts asking the Folly Beach page to post the entire story.
This week, the page posted a photo of Limehouse with his dolphin along with a tongue-in-cheek caption: “The ultra controversial ‘Folly Dolphin Photo’ case has been cracked! Brien Limehouse was on the case and found the ‘real’ baby dolphin!”
This dolphin also died. As good-hearted as the rescue try was, marine mammal protection biologists say not to do it. Cruel as it sounds, the best and safest thing to do is leave the creatures be.
Sea mammals such as dolphins or whales don’t strand by mistake; they usually are sick or injured and are going to die.
Limehouse, a Charleston hotelier, was watching his son, Will, boogie-board when he saw a dark silhouette in the water. Worried about a shark, he kept his eye on it.
The small creature went past him on a wave and beached in the sand. He ran up to it amazed.
“I saw this little smile and thought, ‘Oh my gosh, it’s a baby dolphin,’ ” he said.
Limehouse’s first thought was that the dolphin had become separated from its mother and caught in the surf. He carried it out beyond the first sets of breakers, released it and watched it come back in to the beach.
A surfer nearby carried the dolphin out beyond the second, deeper breakers and it came back again.
As Limehouse and Rick Maupin, his friend, took turns cradling the baby in the water, they called the S.C. Department of Natural Resources and then Folly Beach police. But strandings are the purview of the National Ocean Service’s marine mammal stranding program at Fort Johnson.
The men took turns for an hour cradling the dolphin while waiting for program biologists.
“It was clicking. It didn’t struggle. It seemed to know we were trying to help,” Limehouse said. “It was definitely an experience of a lifetime. Unforgettable.”
But by the time biologists arrived, yellow bile was coming out of the dolphin’s mouth and it died soon after. The baby was a premature birth, not strong enough to make it, said Wayne McFee, National Ocean Service marine mammal stranding program scientist.
“Healthy bottlenose dolphin won’t strand unless they are strand-feeding,” he said. That’s when dolphins corral schools of fish onto shore and follow them up there to eat them.
Reach Bo Petersen at 937-5744, @bopete on Twitter or Bo Petersen Reporting on Facebook.