It was a bit overcast but the weather was mild enough for Greg Tikiryan to wear a running suit to take his dog to City Park for his usual walk along the beach around 11:30 a.m. on Thursday. He certainly didn’t anticipate being drawn into a life or death struggle.
“At first I thought it was a shark,” Tikiryan told a reporter, “but then I saw a little spray from the blowhole and I realized it was a dolphin.”
Tikiryan was pleased to find something as rare as a dolphin just off the beach and stopped to admire the creature and remark on his own good luck in coming across such a beautiful creature.
“Then he started swimming on his side and I saw all the beautiful color underneath, but then I thought, ‘That’s not right. He’s in trouble.’ My first impulse was to take off my shoes and roll up my pants and go and push him back into open water,” said Tikiryan, who works as an emergency room technician at the Warwick Medical Walk-in Room on Warwick Avenue, “but then my training taught me that he really needed someone professional to help him. I called the Mystic Seaport Aquarium and the DEM.”
The Department of Environmental Management sent an enforcement officer to make sure no one got too close to the animal while they waited. Tikiryan took the dog home and then came back to join the vigil. It took from 11:30 until 4 p.m. to get a team of specialists together and travel from Mystic to Warwick. In that time, the dolphin showed no signs of heading out to the bay. It had, by stages, moved progressively closer to the beach. By the time a reporter got there, the dolphin’s face was just under water, about a foot from the water’s edge and the tide was going out. By the time the Mystic team showed up, the dolphin, too weak to retreat with the tide, was completely stranded on the beach.
“By that time, I knew that it wasn’t good news,” said Tikiryan. “I could tell from the way they were approaching it, that it was in bad shape. I knew they were going to euthanize it and I didn’t want to be there for that, so I left.”
What Tikiryan didn’t know at that time was how rare it was for the Mystic team to actually find a live dolphin. Janelle Schuh, the stranding rescue coordinator for the Mystic Aquarium, who said they perform between 100 and 150 rescue missions a year, said, “Only about one in a hundred are alive when we get there and only about 50 percent of those have a chance at being saved.” She continued, “This one [in Warwick] was so emaciated that there really was no hope. I would guess that it hadn’t eaten anything in a long, long time.”
Schuh said there really was no choice but to put the dolphin down. They brought the animal back to Mystic for a necropsy, the veterinary equivalent of an autopsy, to determine what, other than starvation, may have killed the dolphin, which has been identified as a female bottlenose offshore species that is not usually found in bays and inlets. Schuh also said that it was a younger animal, about five feet long.
“The teeth were young-looking, not very worn as you find in older dolphins,” she said, “ and it was very clear that she hadn’t had anything to eat in a long time.”
The offshore ecotype inhabits areas closer to the edge of the continental shelf. The dolphins found in marine parks, like SeaWorld, are usually the coastal ecotype.
Yesterday, the Mystic Aquarium said the necropsy revealed that the dolphin had rocks, shells and seaweed in its stomach, and, in spite of its habitat, it was severely dehydrated, indicating that its normal food sources had not been available to it for some time. Other results of the necropsy will be available within a few weeks.
Tikiryan was sad to hear the news of the dolphin being put down, even though he left because he knew it was inevitable.
“I’m grateful to have seen it,” he said. “The way the sun hit it just perfectly, being that close … it just breaks my heart.”