Michael McCarthy was kayaking near St. Petersburg, Florida, when he noticed the usual flash of silver in the water ahead of him. A dolphin could be seen swimming nearby, holding a little, lifeless corpse.
McCarthy initially assumed the dolphin had just grabbed her supper, but as he stood there watching, a terrible event unfolded in front of him.
“When I initially saw the dolphin, it took me a minute to grasp what I was seeing,” McCarthy, the proprietor of the See Through Canoe Company, told The Dodo. “I was hoping it was a giant redfish or something, but it was immediately obvious it was a dead calf.”
McCarthy took out his camera and began shooting the burial procession of the mother dolphin. She nuzzled her calf’s body, stroking it in a mourning dance.
She wasn’t alone, thankfully. In an apparent effort to protect and soothe her, another dolphin swam beside her. “Other dolphins followed the mother for short distances and then went their own ways as she made her journey north along the Intracoastal Waterway,” McCarthy said, “save for one dolphin who stayed with the mother the entire time.”
The calf appears to have been involved in a collision with a motorboat, which McCarthy has seen far too often. “It was most likely hit by a boat propeller,” McCarthy stated, based on the scar patterns on the calf. “I’ve spent much of my life on the water, including a lot of time among manatees and dolphins, so I’m all too acquainted with the appearance of propeller wounds.”
McCarthy became even more motivated to video the dolphin’s anguish in order to “help raise awareness to a situation I witness all the time,” as he put it.
Mother #dolphin not ready to let go of her dead calf and pushing it through the intracoastal waterway. It's hard to say for sure without examination, but the calf may have been hit by a boat. Please don't assume that because #dolphins are fast that you won't hit them. #sadpic.twitter.com/Le2MAwvPIB
According to McCarthy, a widespread misperception among boaters is that dolphins are “too swift to be hit,” which is just not true. “The calves are considerably more sensitive,” he explained, “since they can’t swim as rapidly and must surface much more frequently for oxygen.”
Previous research has suggested that cetaceans, such as dolphins and whales, are capable of grief, particularly mothers mourning their dead young.
McCarthy shared the video on Twitter last week, and it has had over 76,000 views since then.
McCarthy commented on Twitter, “It was incredibly hard to see.” “That image is going to stay with me for a long time.”