MOTE Marine’s rescue dolphin Moonshine passes

Moonshine by Kat Grimmett

Moonshine, the unique pantropical spotted dolphin is missed by his family at MOTE Marine Laboratory.

February 25, 2015 / Volume XXXVII / Issue 2

MOTE Marine lost a cherished member of the aquarium family when Moonshine, a pantropical spotted male dolphin, passed away on Feb. 10, 2015. While the reason behind his sudden illness and untimely death remains unclear, Moonshine’s unique company is deeply missed by all MOTE staff, including JenAnne Pedonti who worked with Moonshine as a dedicated intern for four months.

Moonshine was an extraordinary dolphin from the start. In fact, he was one of the only pantropical spotted dolphins ever to come under human care perhaps due to the fact that his kind are deep-water dwellers. Pantropical spotted dolphin are much smaller than bottle-nosed dolphins, which are the typical species found in human care. Residing at MOTE since 2003, Moonshine presented a unique opportunity for research.

At two years of age, he was found stranded on a beach in Marathon Key with a third degree sunburn. After staying at Marine Animal Rescue Society of Miami, he was taken to MOTE’s Dolphin and Whale Hospital to finish rehabilitation. Despite having his sunburn healed at MOTE, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) National Marine Fisheries Service, which oversees the protection and care of wild marine mammals, decided that Moonshine was non-releasable.

“The thing about [Moonshine] was that his young age prevented him from being released,” Pedonti said. “Also, the rehabilitation process revealed a chronic liver condition for which he had to be kept on special medication for the rest of his life, which also kept him from being released.”

Once it was discovered that Moonshine was not responding normally to his care, the veterinary team at MOTE reacted immediately. He was brought to the shallow medical area of his large lagoon for tests and remedial care.

Extensive medical attention was given to Moonshine at all hours of the day and night. Watches were arranged to keep an eye on his behavior. One day, about a week after he first exhibited signs of being sick, his health took a downward turn and Moonshine was unable to recover.

Despite the disheartening loss of Moonshine, MOTE staff, volunteers and interns are wholeheartedly grateful for the time they spent with the very special pantropical spotted dolphin. Moonshine was always responsive and tame, enthusiastic to spend time with his four trainers who worked with him throughout the week for 12 hours a day. His trainers worked with him to ensure he was adequately stimulated both mentally and physically. Pedonti was one of the dedicated interns who took a part in Moonshine’s seven training sessions a day.

Interns for MOTE are trained and overseen by the devoted team of animal care professionals working with Moonshine. Interns assist with everyday responsibilities such as maintaining the exhibits and tanks, entering data and accompanying trained staff during standard care, training and research activities.

“I went to do research with [Moonshine], I saw it as a unique opportunity because he was such a rare species,” Pedonti said. “I wanted to study his behavioral aspects in relation to environmental enrichment which is used to make the animal’s habitat feel more natural and stimulating for them. A lot of this involves tactile enrichment devices like toys, hoops, polls etc.,” she explained.

The three types of behavior for which Moonshine was trained during his daily and voluntary sessions included husbandry, or care, behaviors as well as physically and mentally stimulating behaviors.

“The most important behaviors we trained Moonshine in were husbandry behaviors,” Pedonti said. “These are behaviors that we want the animals to become accustomed to because they are the behaviors that we would ask for during medical procedures. We want him to be comfortable so we can proceed with medical care with as little stress as possible.”

“Another was physically stimulating behaviors because he’s not as constantly physically active as a foraging dolphin would be so we do ask him for behaviors such as fast swims and leaps, jumps,” she said.

“We also train him for mentally stimulating behaviors, dolphins are very intelligent creatures, they can get bored easily so we would ask him to do certain tasks such as engage in something that we call ‘match to sample task’ in which we would show him an object and then we would ask him to pick out the object that he saw from an array of other objects.”

“Moonshine was a goofy dude, part of it was his physical appearance because he’s so small compared to huge bottle-nosed dolphins,” she said. “He had his own kind of personality.”

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