Posted on November 7, 2011 at 10:26 PM
Updated Tuesday, Nov 8 at 10:27 AM
Maya Rodriguez / Eyewitness News
PANAMA CITY BEACH, Fla.– It’s a dolphin tale, with a Louisiana beginning and a Florida ending.
Like all good tales, this one is all about the journey: of fighting for survival and becoming a symbol of resiliency.
“He’s full of energy,” said Dr. Lydia Staggs, a veterinarian at Gulf World Marine Park in Panama City Beach, Florida.
Meet Roux Brees: a young dolphin named after the Louisiana cooking staple and someone else who knows all about overcoming the odds.
“It’s pretty cool that they’d want to name him after me,” said New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees.
The story of Roux Brees actually begins on Grand Isle, when the dolphin washed up onshore in January.
“He was badly beaten up,” said Sarah Gomez, a veterinary technician at the Audubon Institute.
Bruised and battered, veterinarians from Audubon rushed to the scene, to see if he could be saved. It was touch and go.
“He was not doing well,” said Audubon Institute Senior Veterinarian Dr. Bob MacLean.
Nearly 350 stranded marine mammals — mostly dolphins — have died in the Gulf of Mexico this year. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration calls it an “Unusual Mortality Event.”
Scientists remain unsure why so many have died. A bacterial infection, known as Brucellosis, was found in several of them. Whether or not last year’s BP Oil Spill compromised the dolphins health or played a role in the deaths is not clear, though.
Roux Brees could have become another statistic. However, he lived — becoming the only stranded dolphin to have survived this year.
“He’s a good little dolphin,” Dr. Staggs said.
For months, Roux Brees underwent intensive rehabilitation at the Audubon Institute. He was a young orphan and couldn’t even swim.
“We had a crew around the clock, holding on to him in the water, trying to walk him around, trying to encourage him to swim,” Dr. MacLean said.
What’s more, with no mother and no dolphin pod to protect him, Roux Brees had been beat up by other dolphins in the wild. The scars are still visible today.
“He came in with all these markings on him. So, he had a pretty rough life out there,” said Michelle Erwin, a senior trainer at Gulf World Marine Park.
Eventually, Roux Brees got a new lease on life.
“He went from being just down and out to being perkier, coming around,” said Gomez, after helping care for Roux for months.
Yet, he now needed a new home. His young age meant he could not be released back into the wild. The orphaned dolphin eventually found a home, located on the crystal clear shores of Panama City Beach, Florida.
After a seven hour journey, Roux Brees made it to Gulf World Marine Park, a place where he’s been taking care of and where he’s become a caretaker of sorts.
“We found out that roux is actually an excellent babysitter for our little 1-month-old calf,” Erwin said.
Trainers and vets at Gulf World said Roux Brees is learning all about being a dolphin, mainly by watching and interacting with some of the 17 dolphins at the facility.
“He’s just like a little sponge,” Dr. Staggs said. “He’s just absorbing everything.”
The park is part of a network in the southeast that tries to save beached marine life. They are also an educational facility. Eventually, Roux Brees will join the other dolphins in teaching visitors about sea life.
“I think he knows that he’s found a home, that he’s been accepted here in this pod,” Erwin said. “He does really well in that fact.”
That is something Drew Brees said he is happy to hear. He and his wife are supporters of the Audubon Institute and its stranding program. It is a cause that played a direct role in Roux’s survival.
“For it to be thriving the way it is, obviously fighting through a life or death situation — that’s great to see,” Brees said. “It’s something that my wife and I feel is part of south Louisiana and, certainly, whe n you talk about what has happened in the recent past with the oil spill– and all the people and animals that were affected — our involvement with the Audubon Institute was really just to try to jump on board and help them in a way we can.”
Back in Florida, Roux Brees is settling in. Veterinarians say dolphins tend to live longer in captivity than they do in the wild. A dolphin like Roux Brees, who is around 1 to 2 years old, could end up living more than 30 years at Gulf World.
“He is representing Louisiana very, very well,” Staggs said.
Meaning, this dolphin’s tale is on its way to a much happier ending.