Slidell neighborhood dolphin dies

This July 3, 2011, photo provided by Rosaria Sheppard, a dolphin jumps in the water in Sunset Canal in Slidell. This dolphin, which lived for several years in the canal recently died. (AP Photo/Rosaria Sheppard)  Show caption
This July 3, 2011, photo provided by Rosaria Sheppard, a dolphin jumps in the water in Sunset Canal in Slidell. This dolphin, which lived for several years in the canal recently died. (AP Photo/Rosaria Sheppard)

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — A dolphin that spent nearly a decade cavorting in a neighborhood canal north of Lake Pontchartrain in New Orleans has died.

The male dolphin had freshwater lesions on its skin when last seen June 6, but the body removed from a canal Monday was too decomposed to determine the cause of death, federal biologists said Tuesday.

The Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries recovered the body the day after a neighbor reported spotting it, said Erin Fougeres, a marine mammal biologist with NOAA Fisheries.

A necropsy conducted at the Audubon Nature Institute’s Aquatic Center found that few organs remained intact and most of the skin had sloughed off, she said.

The dolphin, which previously lived with its parents in the canal before Hurricane Katrina, returned alone after the 2005 storm and was a popular sight, neighbors said.

The dolphin made the news after biting a couple of people in 2012. That brought state and federal biologists to the neighborhood to explain how to deal with wild dolphins. The state also put up signs warning people it was illegal to feed or try to interact with the animal.

Gregory J. Walters Jr. said he first realized something was wrong weeks ago when he returned from a fishing trip and the dolphin didn’t make his usual leaps in front of the boat. Then he spotted the dolphin closer to shore than usual.

“We went by him as he was surfacing. We noticed all kinds of sores and lesions on his back,” which was covered with green algae, Walters said.

He called a number posted on the signs and was told wildlife agents had been checking on the dolphin and knew about the sores.

The sores were caused by living in fresh rather than salt water, Fougeres said. As the skin degrades, the animals can also absorb fresh water, disrupting the balance of salt in their blood.

“These kinds of stresses can lead to death,” Fougeres said by telephone from St. Petersburg, Florida.

Biologists didn’t move the dolphin in 2012, saying he would probably just return.

Tooth marks seen on his body then showed that he was socializing with other dolphins, said Stacey Horstman, another NOAA Fisheries marine mammal biologist.

Walters’ wife, Rosaria Sheppard, said that in 2012 the dolphin was just a 3- or 4-footer when she first saw him with his parents during construction of their house before the 2005 hurricane.

Fougeres said she couldn’t verify the animal’s age. Wild male dolphins can live up to 45 years, she said.