PANAMA THE DOLPHIN
Species: Atlantic Bottlenose Dolphin (Tursiops Truncatus)
Stranded: October 2000, near Panama City, FL
Story: Found beached and suffering from anemia, sever sunburn, &infection.
Personality: Sweet and loving, but ready to play
Loves: Her blue and yellow Frisbees
Known For: Being the oldest dolphin at CMA
Can Be Found: Lounging on her blue float mat enjoying the sun
Did You Know? Panama is Winter's adoptive mother at the aquarium!
Gulf World Marine Park rescued a pregnant adult female bottlenose dolphin from Panama City Beach on October 21, 2000. The dolphin was named "Granny" to reflect her estimated "old" age. She was estimated to be about 25 years old and typically dolphins live to their late 20's to early 30's in the wild. Unfortunately, She aborted the calf shortly after her rescue due to complications that were most likely exacerbated by the stranding event. She received several months of rehabilitative care at Gulf World to treat anemia, severe sunburn around her dorsal fin, and a possible infection. Panama responded well to her rehabilitation and was medically doing well, but despite her good health status there were still many concerns about her worn-down teeth, low stranding weight (she was about 100 pounds underweight), and the reason behind her stranding.
To shed some light on her stranding case some research went into her dorsal fin identification and it turns out that she was matched against catalogs from an on-going wild dolphin study. She was found to be associated with a pod of dolphins that would beg for food from fishermen and boaters. These pods of dolphins are also known as "beggar dolphins." It was suspected that she may have engaged in these behaviors, but she had never been observed doing so. Due to the Marine Mammal Protection Act, set in 1972, it is illegal to interact with wild marine mammals, this includes swimming, harassing, hunting, and feeding them. Despite the illegal nature of feeding wild dolphins, some uneducated boaters and other members of the public continue to offer food and interact with these animals. This is extremely harmful to the dolphins because often times the handouts they receive are usually bait fish or human food that is of low quality. Low quality food can lead to dolphins falling ill and stranding themselves. Another problem feeding wild dolphins is the fact that dolphins frequently use observational learning to acquire new skills. Basically this means that since dolphins often travel in pods they are possibly teaching this behavior to other dolphins instead of using natural foraging behaviors.
It is unclear as to how Panama's teeth had become worn down, but it is speculated that her teeth were one of the contributing factors to being underweight. In early 2001 National Marine Fisheries and Wildlife Services, an agency that governs cetaceans, decided that Panama did not make a good candidate for release due to the combined factors of her teeth, old age, and association with "beggar" dolphins prior to her stranding. Ultimately, it was felt that these issues would impede on her success in the wild. It was decided at that point to place her at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium where she could be a companion animal to another dolphin by the name of "Sunset Sam". The staff here at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium changed her name to "Panama" to reflect her stranding location. Panama was transported to Clearwater Marine Aquarium on March 23, 2001.
In 2007, Panama was chosen to be a participant in a hearing study to determine hearing loss in stranded Odontocete dolphins and whales (Mann et al. 2010). From the results it was determined that Panama had profound hearing loss. Although, unknown for sure, researchers speculate that hearing loss can be a contributing factor in standings. Hearing plays a crucial part in echolocation. When dolphins and whales emit sound waves from their melon, those sound waves travel through the water column and bounce off of objects in the surrounding area. The sound waves then return back through the jawbone and into the ear where upon the brain is able to produce 3-D images of the objects in the environment. With out the capability to hear, it is believed that dolphins and whales are unable to produce images picked up by echolocation. In murky and turbid waters this could cause dolphins and whales to become disorientated and potentially strand themselves. NOTE: it is unclear if Panama's profound hearing loss was indeed a causing factor in her stranding.
Due to Panama's profound hearing loss the training staff works with Panama a little differently than they do with the other dolphins. Instead of using a whistle to tell her she has done a great job and she can receive reinforcement, they point at her or tap her gently on the back. Panama is a very gentle and loving individual who seems to enjoy back and belly rubs from her trainers. She also seems to enjoy playing with her two pals Winter and Hope.
FACT: Among the most damaging human interactions is feeding wild dolphins, even more than the risk of boat collisions or injury from the churning propellers. Although feeding wild dolphins is seemingly harmless, dolphins often become sick and strand or die as a result of eating dead fish thrown to them by boaters. This "begging behavior" is even more problematic because female beggars like Panama would unfortunately teach her calves and other dolphins to beg for fish rather than teach natural foraging skills required to survive in the wild. Thus, this type of human interaction affects many more animals and has a much greater impact over time.