SARASOTA, Fla. (FOX 13) - Scientists in Sarasota spotted a baby dolphin and immediately they knew something was wrong. He appeared emaciated and underweight.
As they got closer, they realized fishing line was wrapped around and embedded in the tail of the two-month-old calf.
Gretchen Lovewell with the Stranding Investigations Program at Mote Marine Laboratory said it was a relatively small amount of fishing line, but it did a lot of damage.
"There was a scar on one side of the fin where it looked like it had been cutting in. That went in about a quarter of the way. On the side where there still was line, it was lacerated through about 80% of the way," she said.
With each flip of its fluke, the line dug deeper and deeper into the dolphin's fin.
"If we hadn’t intervened there is no chance it would have survived," Lovewell said.
It wasn't an easy rescue. The Chicago Zoological Society's Sarasota Dolphin Research Program worked with Mote and NOAA to capture the dolphin. They removed the line, treated its wounds and watched as it swam away.
"The fishing lines that are being used nowadays are designed to be invisible in the water," said Dr. Randall Wells, the director of the Sarasota Dolphin Research Program.
Dr. Wells said it's the second dolphin they've encountered with wounds from fishing line in recent weeks. It's unusual and Wells believes the aftermath of red tide is to blame.
Since red tide hit, Wells said the dolphin population's main source of food, prey fish, has declined by 90%. It will take a few years for that number to rebound and grow.
In the meantime, scientists say dolphins are resorting to all means to find their next source of food.
"The mothers especially will be interested in anglers or being where the fish are which is where the anglers are... It makes them probably more willing to go into situations that they wouldn’t normally go into," said Wells.
Dolphins are quick learners, but until they realize what's happening, we can help.
"What we hope is that people take to heart that these animals are more likely to be approaching anglers now and if they could just reel in when the dolphins are there," said Wells.