Cause of dolphin death under investigation

Minnesota Zoo officials say a young dolphin named Taijah was put on medication after falling ill and seemed stable until late Monday, Feb. 6, 2012, when she died.
Photo for MPR courtesy of the Minnesota Zoo

A young dolphin has died unexpectedly at the Minnesota Zoo. It was the sixth to die in six years. Zoo staff gave year-and-a-half-old Taijah an ultrasound after she refused to eat Monday morning and spit up a blood clot.

By evening, she appeared tired while swimming with her parents then became unresponsive.

There have been various reasons for dolphin deaths at the zoo and with no discernable pattern, said Kevin Willis, director of biological programs. He said one was a stillbirth; another was old and had a tumor.

"We carefully look at every death and we say 'What's the cause'? Is it our management? Is it care? Is it food?" Willis said. "And if there was a pattern, I hope I would've found it. I'm not a big believer in luck, but we haven't been having any good."

A preliminary necropsy found a stomach ulcer, but veterinarians are awaiting more test results that may shed light on the cause

"It is so unsettling to not know, because the other animals, at least in our minds, are in a bit of risk until we find the cause of death," Willisa said. "I hope that something is found that's definitive, conclusive and we can say this is what caused the death of this animal."

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