Many feared the notoriously polluted waterway had killed the animal, but according to a necropsy, the animal had plenty of problems even before it swam into the canal. (Photo : Reuters)
A dolphin wandered into the obscenely dirty waters of the Gowanus Canal last week and died, breaking hearts across the country, but there's a floating foil-silver lining: the animal probably didn't die from pollution, at least, a marine biologist said.
Preliminary results of a five-hour necropsy Sunday at the Riverhead Foundation for Marine Research and Preservation imply the canals toxins weren't responsible for the dolphin's death, but, rather, age and chronic ailments like kidney stones and parasites said Kimberly Durham, the rescue program director at Riverhead.
"There's a lot of people saying that they believe it was the contaminants [that killed the dolphin]," Durham said. "The necropsy doesn't support that. It supports a very compromised individual that happened to find itself at that location."
The plight of the dolphin captured America's hearts last week after it somehow lost its way, drawing television crews and onlookers to the canal's shoreline. After swimming aimlessly alone through the canal for several hours - unusual for such friendly and social creatures - the dolphin died early the evening of Jan. 25.
Many feared the notoriously polluted waterway - so dirty the EPA has designated it as a Superfund site that will cost an estimated $500 million to clean up - had killed the animal, but according to Durham, the animal had plenty of problems even before it swam into the canal.
"There was no evidence that contamination from the canal killed the dolphin," she said.
"This was a compromised animal," Dunham added. "It was in trouble. This could have happened out in the middle of the ocean. Unfortunately, it played out for all the world to see."
The dolphin, a 340-pound, 7-foot male, was actually "skinny" by common species standards, and an investigation of its stomach revealed it hadn't eaten recently, meaning the dolphin may have lost the ability to feed itself, Durham said. Well-fed dolphins typically have squid flesh in their stomachs, but this dolphin didn't, and it was also missing the layer of blubber dolphins usually develop during winter, said Durham.
The necropsy further revealed the dolphin was older, around 25 or 30-years-old. Durham found no evidence that the animal ingested toxins from the canal, which likely would have left burn marks or lesions inside the dolphin's mouth or on sensitive tissue in the blowhole, Durham said. There were also no indications that the dolphin drowned or swallowed large quantities of water, she added.
In 2010 the Environmental Protection Agency declared the Gowanus Canal a Superfund site, calling the waterway one of the country's "most extensively contaminated water bodies." The canal is laced with heavy metals, coal tar wastes and other pollution runoff from factories and tanneries that have lined its banks over the years, the EPA says.