Unexpected find solves mystery surrounding 30-year-old dolphin’s death, SC team says

A 30-year-old dolphin known for its unique feeding behavior was recently found dead on a South Carolina island, and marine biologists say the grisly cause was discovered lodged in one of its internal organs.

The 8-foot male bottlenose was attacked by another sea creature, resulting in pus-filled lesions and “severe localized infection” in its lower left jaw, according to the Lowcountry Marine Mammal Network.

“A 7 cm (2.75-inch) stingray barb was found piercing the top of the right lung,” the nonprofit network wrote in an April 4 Facebook post.

“The barb possibly came from a southern or roughtail stingray. It is probable that the dolphin was first pierced by the barb under the left eye, which led to infection, before it slowly migrated and eventually pierced the right lung.”

Southern and roughtail stingrays have “poisonous serrated tail spines” that cause a painful sting when the creatures feel threatened.

The roughtail “is the largest of the whip-tail stingrays, growing over 7 feet wide and more than 660 pounds,” the Florida Museum of Natural History.

“Stingray barbs are not an uncommon find in stranded dolphins, especially within the Southeast as they both utilize shallow coastal and estuary habitats,” the network said.

The dolphin was found March 19 on Kiawah Island, about a 25-mile drive south from Charleston.

It was identified by the National Marine Mammal Foundation “as a known Charleston animal” that has been tracked since 1995 and seen as recently as a few months ago.

The dolphin was known for participating in strand feeding, a tourist attraction in South Carolina that occurs when bottlenose dolphins use their bodies to drive terrified fish onto shore, experts say.

“Dolphins corral fish near sandy shores then create a large wave to push the fish and themselves onto shore to eat the fish before returning to the water,” the network reports.

“Strand feeding is not common in most parts of the world. It’s a learned behavior from mom.”

Bottlenose dolphins can reach 13 feet, 1,300 pounds and live 60 years, according to NOAA Fisheries.

Drone captures moment venomous stringray collides with 2 swimmers off Australia beach

Frenzied sharks surround charter boat and start attacking motor, Florida video shows

Large sharks now feasting on massive whale that died on Florida beach, video shows