A severely wounded dolphin seen swimming near South Carolina’s Parris Island is likely the survivor of a shark attack, experts say.
Photos show the adult dolphin with a large chunk out of its back — a wound deep enough to expose layers of blubber and pink meat.
The nonprofit Lowcountry Marine Mammal Network says the gash appears to be the work of a gnawing shark, and the dolphin may not survive.
“Sharks don’t necessarily prey on dolphins except possibly young or weak animals (easy targets),” the network posted on Facebook.
“Dolphins have an incredible ability to heal, especially in salt water. ... It’s a good sign it’s swimming around, but (it) would definitely be a long recovery.”
The shape of the wound — a half circle — indicates a shark’s large mouth is the likely culprit, network Executive Director Lauren Rust told McClatchy News.
Waters off the Carolinas are home to multiple species of large sharks, including makos, tigers and great whites. The latter species can grow to 20 feet, according to the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History.
“I would mostly think of white sharks as the ones preying on young, sick or sleeping dolphins,” Rust told McClatchy .
“We do get white sharks a distance off our coast and it’s possible this was an offshore dolphin pod. We do get bull sharks, they are more of a coastal shark and can be aggressive.”
The photos were taken May 16 in Port Royal Sound by Susan Trogdon, who told McClatchy the dolphin was part of “a huge pod of probably 30 dolphins” that was being very protective of its young.
“I didn’t realize how bad it was until I downloaded the photos. ...It was very sad to see the size of the wound and how deep it was,” Trogdon said. “I was hoping to see it again, as I kayak a lot and see the same pods over and over.”
Bottlenose dolphins, an aquatic mammal, grow to 12 feet in South Carolina waters and can weigh 600 pounds, the state says. The region’s dolphins are famous for participating in an unusual practice known as strand feeding.
“They herd a school of fish or shrimp up onto a sandbar or mudflat. Then the dolphins launch their bodies out of the water to feed,” according to a report by the lowcountry Town of Kiawah Island.
“It is a unique behavior that is fascinating to watch, one that only occurs in the Lowcountry and a few, select other areas in the world.”
The Lowcountry Marine Mammal Network is a nonprofit focused on protecting marine mammals in South Carolina waters, including educating the public about threats facing dolphins and whales.