NEW ORLEANS-- He is a playful, young dolphin full of sass. His name, Sassafras.
'I think he's a bit of ham,' said Suzanne Smith with the Audubon Aquatic Center.
Found off of Grand Isle, Sassafras is one of 768 marine mammals stranded along the northern Gulf Coast since 2010. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration calls it an 'Unusual Mortality Event.' So far this year, Sassafras is the lone survivor.
'He was in really bad shape,' Smith said.
Among the problems: he sported a potentially life-threatening sunburn. Sassafras spent the past six months here at the Audubon Aquatic Center. When he first got here, rescue staff worked with Sassafras to try to nurse him back to health and eventually release him into the wild. Then they realized, though, he had a special challenge.
Turns out, Sassafras is hearing impaired and could no longer be released back into the wild. They found a new home for him at the Institute for Marine Mammal Studies (IMMS) in Gulfport, Miss., which has been at the forefront of examining the dolphin deaths.
'They're mammals like you and I,' Dr. Moby Solangi, the IMMS director, told Eyewitness News in October. 'And so by studying them, we can then understand what's going on in nature.'
Specialists estimate Sassafras is about two and half years old and was likely born around Grand Isle at the height of the BP oil spill in 2010. Whether the spill played any part in his fate is unknown.
'Like so many other things, we'll just never be able to tie it in,' Smith said.
So now, Sassafras will settle into a new home, with a new purpose onshore.
'He will be an ambassador for those other animals that live, not only off the coast of Louisiana, but in the Gulf coast region,' Smith said.
Sassafras was transported to his new home in Gulfport on Tuesday. For information on how you can help stranded sea life, click here for the Audubon Nature Institute or here for the Institute for Marine Mammal Studies.