A young dolphin found drowned in a tidal pool on the Thai coast is being treated by dozens of vets and volunteers.
The Irrawaddy dolphin was found by fishermen who alerted marine conservationists and provided emergency care until it could be transported to the Marine and Coastal Resources Research and Development Center from Thailand for veterinary care.
The baby was nicknamed Paradon, which roughly translates to “brotherly burden,” as 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 estimate that there are around 400 Irrawaddy dolphins left along the country’s east coast, bordering Cambodia.
Since Paradon was found by fishermen on July 22, dozens of vets and volunteers have helped treat him at the Rayong center in the Gulf of Thailand.
“We figured his chances of survival were pretty low, judging by his condition,” said Thanaphan Chomchuen, a veterinarian at the center. “Normally dolphins found stranded on shore are usually in such terrible condition. The chances of these dolphins surviving are normally very, very slim. But we did our best to him that day.
Workers placed him in a seawater pool, treated a lung infection, and enlisted volunteers to monitor him around the clock. They must hold him in his tank to prevent him from drowning and give him milk, first by tube, then by bottle when he regained some strength.
A staff vet and one or two volunteers stay for each eight-hour shift, and other workers during the day tend to the water pump and filter and make milk for the calf.
After a month, Paradon’s condition improves. The calf, believed to be between four and six months old, can now swim and shows no signs of infection. But the dolphin, which was 138cm (4.5ft) and around 27kg (59lb) when found, is still weak and not taking in enough milk despite the team’s efforts to feed it every the 20 minutes.
Thippunyar Thipjuntar, a 32-year-old financial adviser, one of many volunteers who come for a shift with Paradon, said she couldn’t help but grow attached to him and worried about his development .
“He doesn’t eat enough but just wants to play. I’m afraid he’s not getting enough food,” she said as she fed the sleeping Paradon, cradled in her arm.
“When you invest your time, physical effort, mental focus and money to come here as a volunteer, of course you want it to grow strong and survive.”
Sumana Kajonwattanakul, the director of the marine center, said Paradon would need long-term care, possibly up to a year, until he was weaned off milk and able to hunt for his own food. .
“If we release him when he’s better, the problem is he won’t be able to get milk. We will have to take care of him until he has his teeth, then we have to train him to eat fish and be part of a group. It will take some time,” Sumana said.
Paradon caregivers believe that extended, tender care is worth it.
“If we can save a dolphin, it will help our knowledge, because there haven’t been many successful cases in treating this type of animal,” veterinarian Thanaphan said. “If we can save him and he survives, we will have learned a lot.”
“Secondly, I think by saving it, by giving it a chance to live, we are also raising awareness about the conservation of this species of animal, which is rare, there are not many left.”
A baby dolphin is treated after nearly drowning in Thailand