That's a story line from my soon-to-be-released contemporary romance novel, The Shore Thing. But it's also a real-life drama playing out in Pinellas County, Florida.
On July 4, beach-goers spotted a four-foot-long Atlantic spotted dolphin struggling in the surf off Redington Beach and called the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. As onlookers cheered, wildlife officials and members of Clearwater Marine Aquarium's Stranding Team went into action.
The dolphin, estimated to be about 4 months old, was dehydrated, malnourished and too weak to swim. Rescuers took her to the aquarium, located in the Clearwater Beach subdivision of Island Estates and famous for its movie star dolphins, Winter and Hope. There, the calf is being fed "fish milkshakes" and being treated for a stomach ailment.
While still in a fragile state, according to aquarium officials, the dolphin is making progress and, two days after her rescue, had begun swimming on her own for short periods.
It's estimated that the baby had been away from her mother for a week. Think about that. This baby managed to survive on her own in the Gulf of Mexico despite having no idea how to hunt for food and having no defense against sharks. It's a miracle, really, that she lasted as long as she did.
Her prognosis remains uncertain, as does her future. Clearwater Marine Aquarium's primary mission is to rescue, rehabilitate and release wild marine creatures. But some animals, because of injury, illness or other circumstances, end up as permanent residents there.
Dolphins that are separated from their mothers too early in life usually aren't good candidates for release after rescue and rehab. That's because they don't possess the necessary survival skills, and humans can't teach them.
If the baby dolphin rescued on Independence Day is deemed unreleasable, she'll likely become a permanent CMA resident just like Winter, Hope and Nicholas. All three of those Atlantic bottlenose dolphins were taken into human care as babies. Winter suffered a debilitating injury after becoming hopelessly entangled in a crab trap rope. Nicholas suffered a severe sunburn while stranded with his fatally ill mother, And Hope was found trying to nurse off her deceased mother's body.
Those stirring stories inspired my baby dolphin rescue in The Shore Thing. The book's two main characters, Danielle "Dani" Davidson and Evan Sanders, along with head dolphin trainer Paul "Flipper" O'Riley and other staff and volunteers at the fictional Gulf Shore Aquarium, respond to a call about two dolphins found on a beach near Cedar Key, Florida. The mother dolphin is already dead when they arrive. They bundle up the baby, a male estimated at about 6 months old, and head back to the aquarium in the west-central Florida town of Gulf Shore.
If you love dolphins in particular and marine life in general, or if you're a fan of smart romance with a lot of heart and a touch of humor, you'll want to download a copy of The Shore Thing when Liquid Silver Books releases it in September.
Stay tuned for future updates on Clearwater Marine Aquarium's latest rescued dolphin calf. For more on CMA's mission, resident animals and the Dolphin Tale movies, click on the link below.