If you think one small piece of trash thrown out in the ocean won’t mean anything, think again.
Just ask "Wilma" the dolphin.
Peach and Roy "Captain Hub" Hubbard of Richmond Hill, who own the local Salty Dawg eco-tours and run the Dolphin Project, recently helped save a 2-year-old bottlenose dolphin that was injured thanks to an article of trash that became embedded in its neck about a year ago.
"She reappeared in May and a rescue team was formed. We made plans to try and do the rescue on July 1 and we spotted her in the Wilmington River," Peach Hubbard said, noting that was how she came up with her name for the dolphin.
The dolphin was spotted near the Thunderbolt marina and the rescue team threw out ring nets to get the dolphin close enough to pull her onto a floating platform, where the team removed an inch-wide and quarter-inch-thick rubber gasket that the dolphin had become entangled in.
"It was like a giant rubber band," Hubbard explained. "And as the dolphin grew, it just got tighter. We were afraid the dolphin would have to be euthanized, but luckily, it hadn’t broken into any organs."
Roy Hubbard said they’ll never know where the trash item came from, but it could’ve traveled from as far as Atlanta through creeks and estuary waterways.
"Dangerous pollutions are waste products and runoff," he said. "Politicians, developers and community leaders need to pay a little more attention to the scientific community."
When developing the coastline, everyone needs to be "far more responsible and aware of how we are connected to our environment," Peach Hubbard added.
Ocean mammals are good environmental indicators. If they are in trouble, it indicates the ecosystem as a whole is, too.
"If you’re a fisherman, you need to be concerned about the health of the aquatic animals right down to the periwinkle snail – it’s all the beginning of the food chain. It’s all connected," Roy Hubbard said. "Pollution is the one big enemy of the whole thing – and it’s all human-generated."
During the rescue, the team administered antibiotics, measured and tagged the dolphin, took tissue and blood samples and a sample of the virus that was growing on the dolphin’s neck as a result of infection.
For Wilma, there was a happy ending.
"They determined it was healthy enough to release it," Peach Hubbard said. "The interesting thing was – the dolphin was calm through the whole thing – t was like she knew she was being helped."
If anyone sees Wilma, please contact Dr. Tara Cox at Savannah State University because the rescue team will continue to track and study the dolphin. Wilma’s pink dorsal tag will look like either a "9" or a "6." Reach Cox at 356-2310 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Please keep in mind the Marine Mammal Protection Act requires humans to stay at least 50 yards away from any marine mammals.
July’s dolphin rescue team included 30 people from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Georgia DNR, University of North Carolina Wilmington, University of Georgia, Savannah State University, Jekyll Island Sea Turtle Center, and Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute in Fort Pierce, Fla. Roy Hubbard noted there was a core rescue group, with additional scientists and marine biology students who tagged along for the experience.
Peach Hubbard is a dolphin specialist and the president of the Dolphin Project and Roy is a skipper. The project is a long term study of the bottlenose dolphin in estuarine waters throughout Georgia and South Carolina. For more information, visit www.dolphinproject.org or www.saltydawgadventures.com.