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Wednesday, June 19, 2024


Dolphin Dies During Rescue Attempt

Marine Mammal Stranding Center
A team of over a dozen people and three boats were on the scene May 24 to attempt a rescue of a bottlenose dolphin from Skeeter Island Creek in Court House.

By Karen Knight

COURT HOUSE – The bottlenose dolphin stranded in Skeeter Island Creek in Middle Township died Friday, May 24, during a rescue attempt.

According to the Marine Mammal Stranding Center, a second rescue attempt May 24 on the dolphin — an in-water capture — was unsuccessful after rescuers first tried to herd it out of the creek using less-invasive tactics.

The dolphin had been stranded in Skeeter Island Creek in Court House since at least May 16. Photo Credit: Werner Tedesco

According to the center’s social media posts, on the morning of May 24 the center, with the assistance of several state, federal and local agencies, conducted a second rescue attempt on the dolphin, after a first attempt May 18 failed.

“A team of over a dozen people and three boats were on scene for this highly coordinated response,” according to the center’s postings. “A series of less-invasive tactics were deployed. First, to attempt to herd the dolphin out of the area without physical capture and handling, including specialized herding equipment. In-water captures are high risk as they pose a significant danger to both the dolphin as well as the responders.

“In this case, when the less-invasive techniques failed, the decision was made to attempt an in-water capture as a last resort. Using the boats, a net was deployed around the dolphin and brought towards shore. Unfortunately, once inside the net, the dolphin immediately panicked and expired within two minutes.”

The dolphin was immediately transported to the New Jersey Animal Health and Diagnostic Lab for a full necropsy, and samples will also be prepared to submit for acoustic testing, according to the center.

“Our entire team is deeply saddened about this outcome,” the post says. “Out-of-habitat cetaceans are the most difficult scenario in marine mammal rescue. As animals that live in the open ocean, this type of habitat is foreign to them and causes immense stress, making the chances of rescue and survival slim.”

In previous posts, the center pointed out that this was not the first dolphin reported in the same section of the creek. “Local residents may recall a similar situation in August of 2016 with a bottlenose dolphin located in the same creek. In that case rescue efforts were successful and the dolphin was eventually returned to the bay,” according to the post.

The dolphin’s eyes were closed in this photo. Its body was sent for a full necropsy. Photo Credit: Werner Tedesco

Center staff and certified stranding volunteers had been checking on the dolphin multiple times daily since they were notified about it on May 16. According to posts on the center’s website and Facebook pages, the center’s team was on the water May 18 in two boats trying to encourage the dolphin to move out. However, the animal would not leave the immediate area.

On May 21, the center received additional specialized equipment from one of its Stranding Network partners out of state to help with another attempt. No details were provided about what type of equipment was obtained.

Court House resident Werner Tedesco, who lives nearby, said he had been watching the dolphin every day, taking about 2,000 photos of it during the week, as he wanted to show some “perspective” to the rescue attempts.

He also was there on May 24 during the rescue attempts.

“It was a gut-wrenching day,” a choked-up Tedesco said on May 24. “I believe the dolphin was sick, and it was a bad situation from the get-go. There were lots of people there today who tried their best and knew what could happen. They really went above and beyond to try and save the poor creature during a really terrible situation.”

Werner said he had observed lesions on the dolphin and that its eyes seemed closed.

According to published reports, the dolphin was swimming in deep water in the creek about 10 feet from a bridge on Hand Avenue. It had no injuries besides small skin lesions, likely caused by brackish water, according to the center.

“The Marine Mammal Stranding Center would like to thank our dedicated staff, veterinarian, and volunteers, as well as the following agencies for their support: Middle Township Fire Department, Middle Township Police Department, Middle Township Dive Team, Middle Township EMS, N.J. Fish and Wildlife Conservation Officers and NOAA Office of Law Enforcement,” the center said in its post.

Contact the reporter, Karen Knight, at


Karen Knight is a reporter for the Cape May County Herald.

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