What Happens When a Dolphin is Left Behind by a Hurricane?

This picture shows the movements of a dolphin nicknamed Dorothy after she was returned to her habitat off the Louisiana coast.

This map shows the movements of a pregnant female dolphin nicknamed Dorothy following her release. Dorothy was found in a cow pasture months after Hurricane Ida passed through the region, with no way to return to her home waters.

Hurricane Ida hit the Louisiana coast on Aug. 29, 2021, near Port Fourchon as a category 4 storm — the fifth-strongest to make landfall in the U.S. — and left behind a swath of devastation that tracked all the way to New York and New Jersey by the time the storm dissipated.

The storm surge also left behind two dolphins stranded inland, far away from the waters they called home. The first, a juvenile male, was spotted swimming in a drainage canal after the storm passed. He was rescued and released to Mississippi Sound on Sept. 5.

A second out-of-habitat dolphin also believed to have been left behind by Ida’s storm surge wasn’t spotted until Nov. 11. The dolphin, a pregnant female nicknamed Dorothy, was found in a flooded cow pasture near Cut Off, Louisiana, far to the west and inland of her previous sightings in 2012 and 2019 in Caminada Bay, Louisiana. On Dec. 10, a team from the Audubon Nature Institute, SeaWorld, the National Marine Mammal Foundation, Texas Marine Mammal Stranding Network, and local agencies rescued the dolphin. She was outfitted with a satellite-linked transmitter provided by the SDRP, and released off Galliano, Louisiana.

The SDRP — which receives funding through NOAA’s John H. Prescott Marine Mammal Rescue Assistance Grant Program to tag and track rescued dolphins post-release — has been following her movements ever since. Jan. 21, 2022, marked 42-days since her release — the threshold used to define intervention success!

If you’d like to learn more about why we use 42 days as a success threshold, check out this 2013 paper “Evaluating post intervention survival of free-ranging odontocete cetaceans,” in the journal Marine Mammal Science by SDRP Director Randy Wells and colleagues.