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Dolphin Tales: Hurricane Katrina dolphins

By Capt. Cathy Eagle - | Jun 30, 2021

Capt. Cathy Eagle. PHOTO PROVIDED

Hurricane Katrina, with sustained winds of 175 mph, made landfall along the Louisiana and Mississippi coasts at 6 a.m. on Aug. 28, 2005. To date, it is the most expensive natural disaster to occur in U.S. history. Amidst the devastation, there were amazing stories of survival.

There were 14 trained dolphins living at the Marine Life Oceanarium in Gulfport, Mississippi. As the storm approached, six of the dolphins were moved inland to hotel pools that were converted to salt water. Eight dolphins remained and were transferred to the high main tank.

The six dolphins in hotel pools did fine, but the eight dolphins at Marine Life were swept out to sea by the storm surge. In the wild, trained dolphins don’t have the hunting capabilities, navigational skills or the social skills necessary to survive. Three of the dolphins were born at the oceanarium and the rest had been in captivity for years. It was nearly two weeks before boats and helicopters were acquired to begin the search.

All eight dolphins were eventually found together in the wild. Some had large lacerations three feet long and three to four inches deep. One dolphin’s dorsal fin was almost cut all the way through. They were starving and in contaminated water. Trainers immediately got in the water and began feeding them and nursing them back to health. They had to teach the dolphins, one by one, to beach themselves on floating rafts where they could then be transferred to stretchers and put on boats.

It took days and Hurricane Rita was approaching with highest wind speeds of 177 mph.

Today all eight dolphins have a new home in a state-of-the-art facility at Atlantis in the Bahamas. As of August 2020, 15 years after Hurricane Katrina, they have birthed 12 calves, a good sign that they like their new home.

Capt. Cathy Eagle has spent over 40 years boating in our local waters. As a professional charter captain she specializes in dolphin and nature tours. Visit CaptainCathy.com or call 239-994-2572.