Three years ago, a bottlenose dolphin named Babyface was severely injured by a boat propeller, sustaining three bone-deep cuts on her back. Her chances of survival were slim. Last week, Babyface was spotted swimming in the Gulf of Mexico.
In July 2015, several witnesses noticed an injured dolphin swimming lethargically near John's Pass, a small village in Madeira Beach, Florida.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration was contacted to determine the best course of action.
Ann Weaver, an animal behaviorist and a resident of John's Pass, was shown a photo of the injured dolphin and recognized her immediately. Weaver had studied dolphins in the area for 10 years, and she had already named this particular dolphin Babyface. Babyface's mother was named Face, because her dorsal fin looked like a human silhouette.
Weaver was crushed upon seeing Babyface's injuries. She had never seen a dolphin with that severe an injury, and she feared Babyface would not survive. Blair Mase, stranding coordinator for the NOAA, shared the same concern. Mase had never seen such a severe propeller strike in a living animal.
The difficult decision NOAA officials had to make was whether to capture Babyface and take her to a rehab center, or allow her to heal in the wild.
On the one hand, Babyface's injuries were so severe that she may not be able to feed herself. But on the other hand, capture would put immense stress on the dolphin, which could impair the healing process.
Weaver likened capture to the dolphin equivalent of "an alien abduction."
NOAA officials monitored Babyface for a few days and saw that her swimming was improving, so they decided to leave her be and hope she recovered on her own. And that's exactly what she did.
Last week, nature photographer Doc Jon (the same guy who took that photo of the osprey with the shark with a fish in its mouth), captured new photos of Babyface swimming near John's Pass.
Though she sustained some deep scars, her injuries have completely healed.
Babyface's incredible story is a reminder that 1) we need to slow down our boats, and 2) marine animals have incredible tenacity and spirit. Hopefully Babyface has many healthy years ahead of her.