Michael McCartney was sailing on the Inland Waterway near St. Petersburg, Florida when he noticed the familiar glow of silver in the water. A dolphin was swimming nearby, he seemed to be rocking his small, weak body.
At first, McCarty thought the dolphin had just caught his dinner, but as he watched, a heartbreaking scene unfolded before him.
“It took me a minute to accept what I saw when I first spotted the dolphin,” McCarthy, owner of See Through Canoe, told The Dodo.
“I wanted to believe it was a big redfish or something, but it quickly turned out to be a dead calf.”
McCarty took out his camera and started filming the dolphin’s funeral. She stroked her calf’s body, stroking it in a dance of grief.
Fortunately, he was not alone. A dolphin friend swam beside him, seemingly trying to protect and comfort his friend.
“As my mother walked north along the Inland Waterway, other dolphins joined her for short distances and then continued on their way,” McCartney said, “except for one dolphin who stayed with his mother all the time.”
The calf seemed to be the victim of a collision with a motorboat, which McCarty witnessed very often. “Judging by the calf scar patterns, it probably hit the boat with a bolt,” McCartney said.
“I’ve spent most of my life on the water, a lot of time around manatees and dolphins, so unfortunately I know very well what screw wounds are like.”
“This made McCarthy more determined to portray the dolphin grief in the film, trying to ‘help raise awareness of a problem that I see all the time,’” he said.
A common misconception among boaters is that dolphins are “too fast to hit,” says McCarthy, “but that’s just not true.”
“Calves are even more vulnerable because they can not swim so fast, they have to go out in the air much more often,” he added.
Previous studies have shown that whales, such as dolphins and whales, exhibit distressing behavior, especially among mothers who mourn their dead calves.
McCarty posted the video on Twitter last week, it has been viewed more than 76,000 times.
“It was really hard to watch,” McCarthy wrote on Twitter. “That image will stay in my head for a while.”