Yesterday, a dolphin who somehow ended up getting trapped in the Gowanus Canal died after a struggle to survive in the toxic waters. The mammal was first spotted at the mouth of the canal around 9:30 a.m. Friday morning, as NYPD officers and members of Riverhead Foundation tried to figure out what was wrong with it. Onlookers said it was clearly injured: “You could see a stream of red in the wake,” Rebecca Rogers-Hawson, a volunteer coordinator with the Gowanus Canal Conservancy, told the Times. But rescuers wouldn't risk sending anyone into the canal, because they say it would have endangered the people as well as the animal: “Normally we wait until high tide to give the animal a chance to leave,” said marine biologist Julika Wocial. “In many situations, intervening could result in a negative outcome.”
Another person told NY1, "It was injured on the end of its nose and on its fin on its back. There was quite a bit of blood." Despite having a police boat at the scene, rescuers said mid-day on Friday that they wouldn't intervene until at least high tide (around 7 p.m.) that day, in case the dolphin could free itself and escape. At the time, Wocial characterized its behavior as distressed, but she added that she had only seen the head of the dolphin emerging from the water, and hasn't been able to examine it up close. As far as we could see, it was struggling for most of the day, surfacing to breathe irregularly.
This is what Wocial said during the press update a few hours before the dolphin died:
What we do in these situations when the animal is free-swimming is we wait for at least one or more tide cycles to see what the animal's going to do as the tide changes. Right now we are at low tide, and we will be going to high tide.
A lot of people will have questions why we are not doing anything, and you asked me what are we going to do. Here's what we are doing right now: I have another biologist on the other side of the canal, and we are collecting some data. We are trying monitor the animal and collect some baseline data, take breathing rates, take behavioral data.
Behavioral data is a little difficult right now because the animal is in shallow water ...That's something that might make him exhibit different behavior than he would if he was in deeper water, so we don't necessarily know if what he's doing now is because he is in this area or because he is in the shallow water, or if it is the behavior that he would be normally exhibiting.
This is a lone common dolphin—they're usually seen in larger groups, this animal is by itself—and it's in an area we normally wouldn't see them. So it's not only concerning, at this point we don't know what the outcome is going to be. Like i said, we are going to be waiting through the tide cycle, we'll reassess the situation tomorrow...
Someone asked me if the animal is sick. I don't know, I've seen as much of the animal as you have...I did see a little barnacle on its dorsal fin that is usually an indication that the animal might potentially have been compromised, in the sense that barnacles get attached to animals that are slower-moving as opposed to animals that are fast-moving.
The dolphin didn't last through the night; it died sometime before 6 p.m. in the canal. Schyler Cox, who had climbed down a ladder by the side of the canal to see the dolphin, told the News it was very sick: “It was up on its side,” said Cox. “It looked like it was ready to give up.”
Aaron Stewart-Ahn was there when it died: "Myself & an ecologist were there at the moment the dolphin died. He cried out. Lifeless breached on concrete piling. Police put up tape." He also captured video of a man who got in the water and comforted the animal just before its death:
The News notes that "Normally stoic NYPD officers looked stricken and began barking at onlookers to get back and give the dead dolphin some privacy." Afterwards, Wocial said there was "probably nothing" that could have been done to help it: “This animal was already showing signs of distress. It wasn’t exhibiting normal behavior for a dolphin, [and] its breathing rate...was elevated.’’ The Riverhead Foundation plan to conduct a necropsy to determine why the dolphin died, but according to the Times, they weren't sure when it might happen.
As of this morning, the dolphin's body was still in the canal. Below, there is a graphic photo of it via Stewart-Ahn.
Some may find this photo extremely disturbing. Gowanus dolphin still lies today where I saw it die at beneath a bridge. flickr.com/photos/5180237…
— Aaron Stewart-Ahn (@somebadideas) January 26, 2013