Boat Collision Injures Sarasota Bay Dolphin

In July 2024, members of the public reported a dolphin with an injured dorsal fin. Subsequent surveys by the Sarasota Dolphin Research Program allowed us to identify the dolphin as F312, an 8-year-old male dolphin born to FB90, also known as “Killer.”

Since his birth in 2016, SDRP has observed him more than 220 times, with two-thirds of those observations taking place in Cortez or Palma Sola Bay. On June 10, 2024, we observed F312 with no fin injuries, other than the distinctive shape of his fin, possibly caused by an interaction with a shark in 2019 that gave his fin a scar at the top left and a slight bend.

Then, on July 9, 2024, we observed him with new injuries, likely caused by a boat propeller strike.

Over the decades of our research, we have shown that most dolphin injuries and deaths from boat strikes in the Sarasota Bay population occur in the weeks surrounding the July Fourth holiday. In fact, 1 in every 20 Sarasota Bay dolphins has a boat collision scar, and 5% of dolphin deaths of known cause in Sarasota are from boat collisions.

We know from our research that while boat strike injuries are severe, dolphins can heal without intervention, as long as injuries involve only soft tissue (for example, dorsal fin injuries). We’ve documented dolphins with similar severe boat injuries go on to live long lives, and even continue to reproduce. (see “Consequences of injuries on survival and reproduction of common bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) along the west coast of Florida.”)

We also know, however, that the disfigurements left behind with such severe injuries make them more susceptible to entanglement in fishing gear and other trash in the water.

We urge boaters and anglers to please be vigilant to help prevent dolphin injuries from boat strikes and gear entanglement.

  • Please stay at least 50 yards away from dolphins and slow your vessel when they are nearby. If you want to watch the dolphins, be sure to put your motor in neutral and don’t engage your prop until the dolphins have moved on.
  • Another way to help dolphins is to wear polarized sunglasses and post a spotter on your boat, especially as you move through shallow waters. The polarized glasses will help cut through the water’s glare and a second set of eyes will help increase your chances of seeing the wildlife in your path.
  • Slow down when going through shallow waters. Dolphins are about three feet tall from their bellies to the tip of their dorsal fins. A boat that draws 18 inches cannot pass over a dolphin (or manatee) in three to four feet of water or less without hitting it, and the animal will always pay the bigger price from the collision.
  • To date, 12 calves have been born to Sarasota resident females during the 2024 calving season. These young, naïve calves do not yet know how to avoid boats – give them space.
  • And remember: If you see an injured or entangled dolphin or other wildlife while you’re boating in Florida waters, call Florida’s Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission Wildlife Alert Hotline: 888.404.3922 (888.404.FWCC).

Learn more about dolphin-safe boating