INDIAN RIVER LAGOON, Fla. (WOFL FOX 35) - A bottlenose dolphin nudged her calf for miles along the Indian River Lagoon, even though her calf was dead.
“It’s devastating”, said Holly Lorenz, who along with her husband, reported the dead animal to a wildlife hotline.
But when they moved their boat closer, they were shocked to see the mother dolphin still caring for her dead calf.
“It literally broke my heart” said Lorenz, trying to hold back her emotion. “I’ve never seen something so sad."
As sad as it looks, researchers say this is normal dolphin behavior.
“In one case, we had an animal push her dead calf for six or seven days,” says Megan Stolen, a research scientist with Hubbs Sea World.
She says there are theories for the dolphin’s behavior.
One is the mother persists nudging her calf because she doesn't know the calf is dead. The other theory is more human in nature.
“Other scientists and other people believe that it is a mourning process," Stolen said.
Whether the dolphin is grieving is impossible to prove, but researchers do know these dolphins are not healthy.
She says contaminants, like herbicides, pesticides and flame retardants, are in the water and the dolphins’ systems, putting the mammal's firstborns at a higher risk of dying.
“When she has a calf, she nurses that calf,” Stolen said. “And a lot of those contaminants go through the milk to the calf and the calf accumulates a lot of those toxins as well."
The nudging went on for miles past riverfront homes, a bridge and Port Canaveral.
Stolen says she doesn't know why this calf died, but she says there's a need for more funding for research on the impact of man-made chemicals on these loyal animals.
Several days later, Stolen says the calf was recovered and that the diligent mother finally moved on.