RAYONG, Thailand (AP) — The Irrawaddy dolphin calf — sick and too weak to swim — drowned in a tide pool on the coast of Thailand when fishermen found it.
The fishermen quickly alerted marine conservationists, who advised them on how to provide emergency relief until a rescue team was able to transport the baby to Thailand’s Marine and Coastal Resources Research and Development Center for veterinary attention.
The baby was nicknamed Paradon, loosely translated as “brotherly burden,” because those involved knew from day one that saving his life would not be an easy task.
Irrawaddy dolphins, considered a vulnerable species by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, are found in the shallow coastal waters of South and Southeast Asia and in three rivers in Myanmar, Cambodia and Indonesia. Their survival is threatened by habitat loss, pollution and illegal fishing.
Marine research center officials believe there are still about 400 Irrawaddy dolphins along the country’s eastern coast, bordering Cambodia.
Since Paradon was found by the fishermen on July 22, dozens of vets and volunteers have helped him at the center in Rayong on the Gulf of Thailand.
“We said among ourselves that the chances of him surviving were quite low given his condition,” Thanaphan Chomchuen, a vet at the center, said Friday. “Normally dolphins found on the shore are usually in such a terrible condition. The chance that these dolphins would survive is normally very small. But we did our best that day.”
Workers placed him in a seawater pool, treated the lung infection that made him so sick and weak, and enlisted volunteers to monitor him 24 hours a day. They have to keep him in his tank to prevent him from drowning and give him milk, initially with a probe and later with the bottle when he has regained his strength.
A staff veterinarian and one or two volunteers stay for every eight-hour shift, and other workers throughout the day operate the water pump and filter and make milk for the calf.
After a month, Paradon’s condition improves. The calf believed to be between 4 and 6 months old can now swim and has no signs of infection. But the dolphin, which was 138 centimeters long (4.5 feet) and about 27 kilograms (59 pounds) on July 22, is still weak and not drinking enough milk, despite the team’s efforts to feed it about every 20 minutes. .
Thippunyar Thipjuntar, a 32-year-old financial advisor, is one of the many volunteers who babysit at Paradon.
With Paradon’s round baby face and curved mouth that looked like a smile, Thippunya said she couldn’t help but get attached to him and worried about his development.
“He doesn’t eat enough, he just wants to play. I’m concerned he’s not getting enough nutrition,” she told The Associated Press on Friday as she fed the sleepy Paradon, cradled in her arm. “Obviously, if you invest your time, physical effort, mental attention and money to come here as a volunteer, you would want him to grow strong and survive.”
Sumana Kajonwattanakul, director of the naval center, said Paradon will need long-term care, perhaps a year, until he is weaned from milk and able to hunt for his own food.
“If we just release him when he gets better, the problem is he can’t get milk. We will have to take care of him until he has his teeth, then we have to teach him to eat fish and be part of a pod. This will take quite some time,” Sumana said.
Paradon’s caregivers believe the extensive loving care is worth it.
“If we can save one dolphin, it will help our knowledge, as there haven’t been many successful cases treating this type of animal,” said veterinarian Thanaphan. “If we can save him and he survives, we’ve learned so much from this.”
“Second, I think by saving him and giving him a chance to live, we’re also raising awareness about the conservation of this species, which is rare and of which there aren’t many left.”