February 26, 2020

File
DPMMR personnel attend to one of two bottlenose dolphins that stranded off of Fiesta Key campground last June. The animals had to be transported to SeaWorld Orlando for care due to a lack of rehabilitation facilities in the region.

File DPMMR personnel attend to one of two bottlenose dolphins that stranded off of Fiesta Key campground last June. The animals had to be transported to SeaWorld Orlando for care due to a lack of rehabilitation facilities in the region.

KEY LARGO — The Dolphins Plus Marine Mammal Responder organization’s upcoming “Connect to Protect” fundraiser is expected to help bring the group closer to opening up a dolphin and whale rehabilitation facility.

“The gala is our biggest fundraiser of the year and the proceeds from this event have such a huge impact on our ability to provide top-notch care to our family of dolphins and to rescue and protect their wild counterparts,” said Nancy Cooper, DPMMR’s president.

Contributed
The crew from Oceanside Homes and Design pose in front of Baker’s Cay last year ahead of the Connect to Protect Gala..

The organization responds and rescues any whale or dolphin in need of help in a 10,000-square-mile area stretching roughly from Cape Coral to the Dry Tortugas. The DPMMR organization also cares for seven resident dolphins at its facility in Key Largo where it offers guests dolphin-interaction programs.

One of DPMMR’s first steps toward opening a dolphin and whale rehabilitation center is to purchase the commercial Tarpon Basin property at mile marker 102, which the organization currently leases.

“Our immediate priorities include developing the basic facilities required to obtain licensure from the National Marine Fisheries Service to conduct rehabilitation efforts and maintaining the existing lease until such time we can purchase the property,” said Hunter Kinney, the assistant director of development and senior marine mammal specialist.

“The timeline on developing the initial rehabilitation facilities is pending upon permit approval and fundraising success throughout the year. Our fundraising goal for the gala is $144,000, which will go toward developing a fish-preparation area, privacy fencing around the property, quarantine pools, necropsy unit and other general construction — all required by the National Marine Fisheries Service for rehabilitation facilities.”

There aren’t enough places to rehab dolphins and whales as there are strandings of these marine mammals, Kinney said.

Last June, DPMMR responded to two stranded bottlenose dolphins off of Fiesta Key campground.

It was determined these animals needed long-term rehabilitation before being released back into the wild, but because the Keys have no facilities for whale and dolphin rehabilitation, the animals had to be transported to SeaWorld Orlando for care.

“When it comes to marine mammal rehabilitation, the first few hours are critical and a five-hour journey to central Florida can be extremely stressful on a sick animal, Kinney said. “The stranding team at DPMMRa has well over 100 years combined of experience with rehabilitation and is prepared to do long-term rehabilitations, we just need the facilities to do it.

“At last year’s gala, a veterinarian working for DPMMR at the time spoke about responding to an orphaned dolphin calf and having to euthanize the animal simply because there was no space at any of the marine mammal facilities in the state that could take the animal. While this is such a touching story, it’s far too common unfortunately.”

DPMMR said that it would serve the stranded dolphins and whales not only in the area but could also alleviate overcrowding at other rehabilitation programs throughout the state.

Through its partnership with Baker’s Cay Resort, which will host the event, this is DPMMR’s second Connect to Protect Gala. The all-inclusive party celebrates DPMMR’s mission to conserve whales and dolphins and raised nearly $40,000 in the name of marine mammal conservation its inaugural year.

There are 75 items in the gala’s auction, with several being “big-ticket” items. The Connect to Protect Gala is an open-bar event with a seated dinner, music, auction and more. It is a formal event.

The Connect to Protect Gala is at 6 p.m., Saturday, Feb. 29, at Baker’s Cay, mile marker 97, bayside.

Interested guests may call DPMMR at 305-453-4321 to purchase tickets, or visit dpmmr.org for more information. To make a donation to support the organization, visit dpmmr.org/donate.

tjava@keysnews.com