Rescuers Form Human Chain to Guide Dolphin From Florida Creek to Open Water

Biologists formed a human chain to guide a dolphin from a creek in Clearwater, Florida, out into open waters on Wednesday, January 18, according to the Clearwater Marine Aquarium.

The aquarium said that the rescuers were monitoring the lone dolphin since January 1, until the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Fisheries Service determined that it was the “animal’s best interest to intervene to help the animal leave the area.”

Video posted by the Clearwater Marine Aquarium on Wednesday shows 28 people made a human chain in a residential creek to lead the animal back to an area where it could access the bay and the Gulf of Mexico. The team lined up in the creek to “create a visual and sound barrier to guide the animal to safety.”

Dolphins are protected by the Marine Mammal Protection Act, NOAA explained. Credit: Clearwater Marine Aquarium via Storyful

Video transcript

- Going towards the line.

ABBY STONE: The rescue team at Clearwater Marine Aquarium has been monitoring a young dolphin in a small area of Allen's Creek, in Clearwater, for about 18 days.

ANDY GARRETT: And they've been watching the dolphin over the past few weeks, staying in the same cove area, same lagoon area. And there was a short, kind of tight bridge that the dolphin didn't want to go past.

ABBY STONE: It's a young animal, good body condition. Behavior seemed to indicate that it was doing OK. We didn't see any signs of distress.

ANDY GARRETT: It looked like the dolphin's in pretty good shape-- didn't look like it was having issues. It's just-- long term, it's not great to have a dolphin in such a small area. So we decided we were going to encourage it out of that area and get it moving.

BRITTANY BALDRICA: There was about 25 to 28 of us in the water. And our main goal was just to create a straight line across from us. So we were shoulder to shoulder, no gaps. We didn't want any gaps to let the animal see an opportunity to pass us. We all moved at a steady pace. And then, every time we would come up to an obstacle-- whether that was a tree, or whether that was a dock-- we would have to navigate around those while still maintaining shoulder to shoulder. So that was a bit challenging.

ABBY STONE: Of course, we are reporting to NOAA. And they evaluate all of the data that we bring to them. So with the information that we provided, nobody really had any concerns except harassment. And that is a concern because dolphins are protected by the Marine Mammal Protection Act. And harassment is very dangerous for these animals. So we didn't want to see anyone attempting to feed, or chase, or interact in any way because it's detrimental to their health.

BRITTANY BALDRICA: And then, behind us, we had Andy Garrett with FWC. And he was the one that was calling out when to advance, when to slow down.

ANDY GARRETT: And tighten the space down, kind of pushing the dolphin towards the end of canal, and just kind of encouraging it that this is not where you want to be-- and kind of overcome that fear of shooting through that gap inside-- underneath the bridge. So we've seen this in the past, that sometimes the noise from the trucks and cars going over the bridge is kind of a sound barrier for the dolphin. It doesn't want to kind of leave the area.

BRITTANY BALDRICA: Give it enough motivation to go under that bridge and out to the open waterway, where it can eventually make its way out to the bay.

ABBY STONE: Towards the end, as we were getting closer to the bridge, the dolphin had made a quick turnaround near a part of our line. And for a second, we were worried that maybe it had broken our line of people. But he actually had made a quick turnaround, thought about it for a second, and then as we looked through the bridge, we could see him displacing water with his dorsal fin. And then, just on the other side of the bridge, we saw his dorsal fin come up.

- There you go, you guys!

- He went?

- He went through!

- Yay!

- Woo!


ABBY STONE: And it worked. It does take a lot of coordination. It took a little bit of patience and time to get the animal where we needed it to be in the canal.

BRITTANY BALDRICA: So it was very exciting for, after almost 20 plus days, for him to finally be out of the canal.