01/29/2013 08:40 am ET Updated Mar 31, 2013

Gowanus Dolphin Probably Wasn't Killed By Canal's Toxins, Officials Say

By Leslie Albrecht, DNAinfo Reporter/Producer

GOWANUS -- The dolphin whose lonely death in the filthy Gowanus Canal broke hearts nationwide probably didn't die from pollution found in the Superfund site, a marine biologist who conducted a necropsy on the animal said.

Preliminary results of a five-hour necropsy completed Sunday at the Riverhead Foundation for Marine Research and Preservation suggest that age and chronic ailments like kidney stones and parasites doomed the animal, rather than contact with toxins in the canal, said Kimberly Durham, the rescue program director at Riverhead.

"There's a lot of people saying that they believe it was the contaminants [that killed the dolphin]," Durham said. "The necropsy doesn't support that. It supports a very compromised individual that happened to find itself at that location."

The examination of the dolphin's body revealed that the animal was older -- about 25 or 30 years -- and hadn't eaten recently. The dolphin's health was compromised by conditions such as kidney stones, which are very unusual in common dolphins, and ulcerations and parasites in its stomach.

There was no evidence that the dolphin had ingested toxins from the canal, which probably would have left burn marks or lesions inside the animal's mouth or on the sensitive tissue around its blow hole, Durham said. There was no evidence of those injuries, Durham said. There were also no indications that the dolphin drowned or swallowed large quantities or water, she said.

The dolphin's appearance in the heavily polluted waterway on Friday horrified onlookers, who could only watch helplessly as the animal seemed to struggle and repeatedly surface for air with black gunk coating its snout. After several hours wandering the canal alone -- unusual for the very social, friendly creatures -- the dolphin died early Friday evening.

The 340-pound, 7-foot dolphin was "skinny" and an examination of its stomach showed that it hadn't eaten recently, meaning that the dolphin may have lost the ability to feed itelf, Durham said. Generally a well-fed dolphin will have squid flesh in its stomach, but this dolphin did not, Durham said. It was also missing the layer of blubber that dolphins typical develop during the winter.



Dolphin Stuck In The Gowanus Canal