On Friday afternoon, New Yorkers watched and tweeted in horror as a lost and injured 345-pound male dolphin struggled for hours in the disgusting waters of the Gowanus Canal. Both before and after the poor animal died, onlookers wondered why the relevant authorities decided to leave it alone until high tide — when they said it might swim out on its own — instead of jumping in for a rescue. In a sad interview with the New York Times, Robert DiGiovanni — the head of the Riverhead Foundation and the person officially responsible for “marine-mammal rescue” in the area — explained that human intervention would have been more complicated than it seemed.
The foundation weighed many factors, Mr. DiGiovanni said, among them the risk of the animal injuring itself in the process of being captured; the daunting logistics (including federal permission) and lead time required for safely removing a dolphin from water; the very low survival rate, under 10 percent, of dolphins who are taken in for rehabilitation; and, yes, the possible danger to staff members of exposure to the canal’s toxic goo, the subject of a $500 million Superfund cleanup.
DiGiovanni added that the dolphin’s death at 6 p.m. suggested that it was too sick to be saved. “If it’s not going to make it through the next tide cycle, it’s an animal that’s completely compromised,” he explained. He also said that the scared sea creature would have instinctively resisted a rescue in the narrow canal, likely resulting in further injury: “Everything that it was going to hit was going to be concrete and it’s not favorable.” The Riverhead Foundation is planning to perform a necropsy on Sunday. They’ll release the results in a couple weeks — just in case you were hoping to never think about this again.