A lone dolphin in the brackish waters of a Louisiana canal is in love with humans. But the 7-year-old male bottlenose bit three people in Slidell, La., in May and regularly rams boats and chases after Jet Skis.
“He’s just playing, but, of course, a playful wild animal is still dangerous,” said Stacey Horstman, a biologist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. “The behaviours he’s displaying are normal young male behaviours; he’s just misdirecting them to boats and Jet Skis and people.”
Horstman spoke at a meeting on Monday with residents of Lakeshore Estates, a subdivision where the dolphin lives, warning people to stay away from him.
Video via YouTube user Malatav.
But, like star-crossed lovers, humans and the Slidell dolphin, as he’s become known, can’t remain apart, despite the inherent dangers both pose to each other.
He’ll race towards nearby boats in order to swim, jump and splash.
And gawkers, including children, reciprocate that love by feeding him, petting him and jumping in the water to play.
But in May, a teenaged girl was feeding the dolphin when he clamped down on her hand and, as she pulled back, ripped her tendons. Later that week, Jesse Strahan, 19, was on a boat with friends when the dolphin began splashing nearby. When Strahan washed his hands in the water, the dolphin grabbed his hand, slicing it open in three spots and drawing blood that required stitches, according to the St. Tammany News.
Now there are concerns about retribution. Not only does the Slidell dolphin bear scars from what was likely a fishing hook, Horstman said, but another dolphin was found dead last week in Alabama, a screwdriver embedded in his brain.
Although it is just a short swim to the open waters of Lake Pontchartrain and out into the ocean, the Slidell dolphin never ventures that far — he’ll stop chasing boats if they head that way.
But wildlife officials and the community do not want to relocate the dolphin because if they do, he will likely die or simply return, Horstman said. He’s become part of Slidell, a town of 27,000 across the lake from New Orleans.
According to locals, when the dolphin was as a calf, he was seen swimming the canals alongside two adults. Then a wall of water crushed the coastline in 2005 as Hurricane Katrina ravaged the Gulf Coast.
Then the baby dolphin swam alone.
Video via YouTube user Rhinovamp.
“You know, he’s just like us,” said Slidell native Jack Orr, who stayed through the hurricane that wiped out his house and business. “He lost everything, but he’s put it behind him and is fine. He’s a survivor. People just have to leave him alone now.”
Calves usually remain with their mothers for three years while they play with other youngsters. But somehow the Slidell dolphin survived. Some residents fed him as he grew, before he ventured out to find friends.
He tried to join a pod that swims on the other side of the lake, but they didn’t want him. He has the bite marks to prove it.
Now the Slidell dolphin rarely leaves the waters of the canal and residents are hoping more warning signs and enforcement will help. It is illegal to feed or harass dolphins under the Marine Mammal Protection Act, with fines of up to $100,000 and up to a year in prison.
But the Slidell dolphin has his pod. They just happen to be another species.