Battle of Troy: Baby dolphin survives shark attack

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The UTPA Coastal Studies Lab aided a dolphin named Troy that washed ashore Wednesday following a harrowing shark attack. Rescuers are seen here attempting to prie the dolphin’s mouth open so that vets can insert a feeding tube. (Staff photos by Ray Quiroga)

Port Isabel-South Padre PRESS

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Kara Dilbeck and her sister Kassy Alexander receive instructions on how to best support Troy.

Still considered a juvenile and at just over six feet in length, his size is deceiving.

Compared to an adult, Troy — as he’s been named by rescuers — looks akin to a giant stuffed animal. But at 200-250 lbs., this Bottlenose Dolphin can pack a wallop, especially if you’re on the receiving end of his swinging fin; just ask any of the eight individuals needed to hold him steady as veterinarians tried to force hydrate him through a feeding tube.

Troy is a fighter, and he needs all the moxie he can muster to stay alive after washing up on shore near Beach Access #6 Wednesday morning. He was discovered at around 8 a.m. brandishing an array of deep shark bites. A deputy constable, who arrived at the scene, notified researchers at the University of Texas-Pan American Coastal Studies Laboratory located within Isla Blanca Park where Troy was transported for care.

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Zoo Vet Thomas deMaar (red vest) prepares to draw blood from Troy's fin.

Visibly in pain, trembling and with labored breathing, it was ironically fitting that Troy was literally carried into the Isla Blanca Park facility on what appeared to be a Korean War-era Army stretcher not unlike those used to transport wounded soldiers off the battlefield. Troy had, no doubt, fought a battle of his own earlier that morning against the shark or sharks that attacked him. Now, he was fighting a battle against infection and possible death. Volunteers, who included Gladys Porter Zoo Senior Veterinarian Thomas deMaar labeled Troy’s status as “guarded” late Wednesday.

The call was also sent out for trained volunteers listed in a database kept by the lab for such emergencies, but at this time of year, many of those volunteers were out of town. Still, by early afternoon, a group of over 20 individuals had signed up to take their turn braving two-hour shifts in a modest-sized, four-foot deep tank of 62 degree water where Troy must, at all times, be cared for by two volunteers who tirelessly assist in keeping the dolphin afloat and moving in the tank.

The experience was something new for many of those lending a hand, even for Jenna Lueg of McAllen, who currently resides in Port Isabel; who, despite assisting at the lab since September, has never taken part in such a rescue. “I was apprehensive at first, kind of excited but I felt bad that this happened to him,” she said after spending over an hour in the water caring for the creature.

Only in their late teens and early 20s, Kara Dilbeck and her sister Kassy Alexander are young and slight, yet they not only were able to brave the chilly temperatures and support Troy for close to two hours, the ladies’ gentle nature seemed to calm the distressed dolphin. “I got a little bit emotional in there just seeing all the wounds…You get a little attached,” Dilbeck, who is vacationing on the Island from California said.

According to lab research assistant Brigette Goza, such attacks are uncommon. “Incidents such as these don’t happen frequently in this area. It’s been quite a few years since something like this has happened,” Goza said.

As much as Dr. deMaar was concerned with Troy’s external wounds, the doctor was equally, if not more concerned with what he couldn’t see. In fact, deMaar surmises that Troy may have been weakened before the attack. And Troy’s attacker or attackers may have senesced this.

Troy’s future is uncertain but if his prognosis improves he may be transported to the Texas State Aquarium in Corpus Christi where there is staff and facilities better equipped for his care and rehabilitation. That may happen as early as today or within the next several days.

For more information regarding volunteers or monetary donations to help in this effort, contact the lab at (956) 761-2644, 100 Marine Lab Drive, South Padre Island.

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1 comment

    • Zoe on December 23, 2011 at 9:27 am
    • Reply

    Great Job guys!!!! Awesome story. Thank you all!

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