This is a story of survival, and the survivor is a dolphin named Chance.
It was the day before Thanksgiving in 2011 when a rescue team found Chance stranded on the beach in Fort Morgan, Ala.
“We thought Chance was actually dead on the beach,” said Moby Solangi, director of the Institute for Marine Mammal Studies.
The dolphin was in dire shape, with cuts, scrapes and bruises covering his body. Several of the animal's bones were broken, and he was dehydrated and barely able to breathe.
But even then, he was special.
“This was the first animal we got alive after the BP oil spill," Solangi recalled. "All the other animals were found dead.”
Chance was part of a record number of dolphins that washed up on shore along the Gulf Coast in 2011. None of the other 145 dolphins had survived, so when rescuers found him in such bad shape they didn’t think he had much of a chance of making it.
“I would’ve given him about a one or two-percent chance of surviving,” Solangi says.
For weeks, trainers worked on Chance 24/7 – treating him, keeping him afloat, and keeping him alive. Everyday was a miracle as he continually defied the odds to survive and recover.
After six months, this special dolphin had recovered so much he was moved into a bigger pool where he began working with trainers toward his next big goal – performing in front of audiences in IMMS’s conservation educational program.
“It’s amazing to see how strong he’s gotten and how much personality he has once he came out of his really rough patch,” said IMMS dolphin trainer Kelly Pulis.
This dolphin’s lone survival also helped researchers study what other factors may have been involved in the record number of dolphin deaths. The IMMS says Chance did allow them to learn a great deal about what caused the record number of dolphin deaths, but that the federal government has embargoed their findings until it completes its criminal investigation of the BP oil spill.
“The stranded animal is a window to what’s going on in the environment. Whatever happens to them will ultimately happen to us,” Solangi said. “He was like a black box where we could then find what actually may have happened to these animals in the wild.”
Today, Chance is living in the main pool at IMMC with two other dolphins. He’s playing with toys, learning new tricks, and should be ready to join the shows this Summer.
But until then, Chance is simply teaching through example.
“This area was hit by Katrina, the nation’s largest storm, and then hit by BP oil spill, the nation’s largest man-made disaster,” Solangi said. “And Chance epitomizes the resilience of the area, the ecosystem, and our ability to get back.”