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SeaWorld staff monitors a young dolphin who was rescued after being found stranded on a Cardiff beach with severe injuries. Courtesy photo/SeaWorld
SeaWorld staff monitors a young dolphin who was rescued after being found stranded on a Cardiff beach with severe injuries. Courtesy photo/SeaWorld
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Baby dolphin found stranded on Cardiff beach beats survival odds

ENCINITAS — When rescuers from SeaWorld San Diego were first called to reports of an injured baby dolphin stranded on Cardiff State Beach, many feared the worst.

The young marine mammal, who experts say was between 4-6 months old when he was found beached on the shoreline in January, had somehow become separated from his mom. The dolphin’s rostrum — the snout or beak that contains the jawbone and teeth — was broken in three places and he sustained injuries to his face.

The calf had fetal folds and was probably still nursing his mother, who could not be located. The success of stranded dolphins or cetaceans depends on several factors, including age, body condition, underlying diseases and severity of injuries.

In this case, the young dolphin’s chance of survival was, at best, 10%.

“When they finally strand, they are in dire straits,” said Jeni Smith, rescue curator at Seaworld San Diego, who was first on the scene after receiving the call for help.

Rescuers wasted no time, immediately transporting the young dolphin to SeaWorld San Diego for lifesaving treatment. The young dolphin was placed in a flotation vest equipped with pool noodles to help with buoyancy, underwent two rare and complex jaw surgeries and was cared for around the clock.

A harness with pool noodles was created for Cardiff the dolphin to help him recover. Courtesy photo/SeaWorld
A harness with pool noodles was created for the young dolphin to aid his recovery at SeaWorld. Courtesy photos/SeaWorld

Staff also tube-fed the calf a special fish formula to ensure he got enough nutrients.

Smith said that despite the desperate situation, the dolphin’s character was evident as soon as rescuers arrived on the scene.

“Within three days, we knew he was very smart, and his personality really showed. He initially required 24-hour care, then we would leave him for a few hours, and he would start porpoising the surface. But always in the back of our mind, we didn’t know what his future would hold.”

While many animal rescuers rarely name their patients in case they don’t survive, the youngster was named Cardiff after the beach where he was discovered clinging to life.

However, five months later, staff say his recovery is going “swimmingly.” After viewing the other dolphins from a mesh gate, crews slowly introduced Cardiff to fellow cetaceans, eventually allowing them to swim together.

A SeaWorld staff member feeds Cardiff the dolpin in San Diego. Courtesy photo/SeaWorld
A SeaWorld staff member feeds Cardiff the dolphin in San Diego. Courtesy photo/SeaWorld
Cardiff the dolphin beat the odds after being discovered clinging to life on an Encinitas beach. Courtesy photo/SeaWorld
Cardiff the dolphin beat the odds after being discovered clinging to life on an Encinitas beach. Courtesy photo/SeaWorld

“Cardiff has met a couple of the other dolphins, including a very experienced mom and another common dolphin who is one of her offspring, too,” said Smith. “He follows them, then does his own thing. So far, everything has been really positive.”

Unfortunately, due to Cardiff’s injuries and acclimation to people, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has deemed the dolphin calf non-releasable, making SeaWorld his new permanent home.

But his ongoing recovery has stunned Smith and her team, who have said the dolphin is the first rescue to survive in the last decade.

“He survived the first 48 hours, then, ‘Oh my gosh, he survived two weeks’ and then more and more time, which makes his story so special,” Smith said.

Cardiff now weighs around 65 pounds and consumes roughly eight pounds of food daily.

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