RAYONG, Thailand (AP) – The Irrawaddy dolphin calf – sick and too weak to swim – drowned in a tide pool on Thailand’s coast when fishermen found it.
The fishermen quickly alerted marine conservationists, who advised them on how to provide emergency care until a rescue team could take the baby to Thailand’s Marine and Coastal Resources Research and Development Center for veterinary treatment.
The baby was nicknamed Paradon, which roughly translates to “Brotherly Burden,” because those involved knew from day one that saving his life would not be an easy task.
Listed as a vulnerable species by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, Irrawaddy dolphins are found in the shallow coastal waters of South and Southeast Asia and three rivers in Myanmar, Cambodia and Indonesia. Their survival is threatened by habitat loss, pollution and illegal fishing.
Marine Research Center officials believe about 400 Irrawaddy dolphins remain along the country’s east coast bordering Cambodia.
Since Paradon was found by fishermen on July 22, dozens of veterinarians and volunteers have helped care for him at the center in Rayong on the Gulf of Thailand.
“We said among ourselves that the chances of him surviving were pretty slim given his condition,” Thanaphan Chomchuen, a veterinarian at the center, said on Friday. “Usually, dolphins stranded on shore are in such a terrible state. The chances of surviving these dolphins are usually very, very slim. But we gave him our best that day.”
Workers put him in a seawater pool, treated the lung infection that was making him so sick and weak, and recruited volunteers to monitor him around the clock. You have to hold him up in his tank to keep him from drowning and give him milk, first by tube and later by bottle when he’s regained some strength.
A staff veterinarian and a volunteer or two remain for each eight-hour shift, and other workers tend to the water pump and filter during the day and make milk for the calf.
After a month, Paradon’s condition improved. The calf, which is believed to be between 4 and 6 months old, is now swimming and has shown no signs of infection. But the dolphin, which measured 138 centimeters long and about 27 kilograms on July 22, is still weak and not taking enough milk despite the team’s efforts to feed it about every 20 minutes.
Thippunyar Thipjuntar, a 32-year-old financial adviser, is one of the many volunteers who come to Paradon for a babysitting shift.
Thippunya, with Paradon’s round baby face and curved mouth that looks like a smile, said she couldn’t help but become attached to him and worried about his development.
“He doesn’t eat enough, he just wants to play. I’m worried he’s not getting enough food,” she told The Associated Press on Friday as she fed the sleepy Paradon, who was cradled in her arms. “If you invest your time, your physical exertion, your mental alertness and your money to come here to volunteer, you naturally want him to grow strong and survive.”
Sea center director Sumana Kajonwattanakul said Paradon will need long-term care, perhaps up to a year, until he is weaned from milk and able to forage for his own food.
“If we just release him when he’s better, the problem is that he won’t be able to have milk. We have to take care of him until he has his teeth, then we have to teach him to eat fish and to be part of a group. It will take time,” Sumana said.
Paradon caregivers believe that the extended loving care is worth it.
“If we can save a dolphin it will help our knowledge as there have not been many successful cases treating these types of animals,” said veterinarian Thanaphan. “If we can save him and he survives, we will have learned so much from it.”
“Secondly, I think by rescuing him and giving him a chance to live, we are also raising awareness for the conservation of this rare animal species of which very few remain.”