GULFPORT, Miss. (CN) – A dolphin custody battle is playing out on Mississippi’s Gulf Coast. The Gulfport-based Institute of Marine Mammal Studies is fighting the National Marine Fisheries Service’s attempt to wrest a stranded Atlantic bottlenose dolphin from the nonprofit, which says it has the animal’s best interests in mind.
The marine mammal rescue and study facility took over care of the dolphin after it was found stranded on the Alabama shore after Hurricane Ida in late 2009.
The juvenile dolphin had been out of the water for about 4 hours and was suffering from pneumonia and intestinal problems. The organization says its members kept a 24-hour vigil over the dolphin in those critical first days.
The institute says it nursed the dolphin back to health, investing “thousands of dollars and numerous hours” in its rehabilitation.
Due to the animal’s poor health and lack of a locatable home pod, a veterinarian with the institute determined that the dolphin could not be returned to the wild. The institute applied to keep the dolphin “for public display.”
Though the federal agency agreed that the dolphin could not be returned to the wild, the two parties could not agree about care for the dolphin.
The Institute of Marine Mammal Studies claimed isolation at its facility would be best for the animal’s health, due to the stress of placing it with other dolphins, but the National Marine Fisheries Service insisted that the dolphin be immediately socialized with other members of its species.
The agency then imposed an “impossible and patently inequitable time restraint” on the institute, demanding that it complete a plan to get a suitable companion dolphin within two weeks, according to the complaint.
Despite the institute’s arrangements for temporary custody among other dolphins at another facility, until it receives a suitable companion, the agency refused to budge.
The institute claims that the National Marine Fisheries Service’s jurisdiction ended once a nonreleasable determination was made on the dolphin.
It claims that the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service now has authority over what to do with the dolphin.
Represented by Cyril Faneca with Dukes, Dukes, Keating & Faneca, the institute seeks a temporary restraining order preventing the agency from taking the animal, and declaratory and injunctive relief.