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Green light for dolphin Roxanne as it returns to sea
Nearly three months after she was found beached on a Fire Island inlet sandbar, Roxanne, a 700-pound Risso's dolphin, slid down a rubber mat off the back of a vessel 18 miles from shore and back to sea on Wednesday.
Roxanne, who had been recovering from gastric bleeding and parasites at the Riverhead Foundation since she was rescued by the U.S. Coast Guard on June 6, was taken out to the Atlantic Ocean by Stony Brook University's vessel, Sea Wolf.
Robert DeGiovanni, director and senior biologist at the foundation, helped coordinate the release efforts.
"It's exciting to see the community pulling together to get this dolphin home," he said. "And it's rewarding to see her back in the wild."
Coast Guard member Owen Rosenthal, who is stationed on Fire Island, was among those who rescued Roxanne in June.
"We braced for the worst," said Rosenthal, 21, of Neptune, N.J. "We thought she was dead when we found her, but a couple minutes later we saw her breathing. It's exciting to see her go home."
Since being treated for ulcers, a condition that doesn't appear related to the infection that could be causing a die-off of bottlenose dolphins in the area, Roxanne has gained 100 pounds, ingesting 75 pounds of squid each day.
DeGiovanni said Roxanne has an antibody which will protect her from contracting the infection.
Roxanne is the second Risso's dolphin to be rehabilitated and released in the country -- both times by the Riverhead Foundation, said Chuck Bowman, the foundation’s president. The first time was in 2005.
Earlier in the day, a crane lifted Roxanne in a crate onto the Sea Wolf at the Shinnecock Commercial Dock off Dune Road in Hampton Bays.
The public gathered to cheer on Roxanne as the boat traveled through the inlet and out to sea.
Michelle Panissidi brought her two sons Frankie, 8, and Anthony, 11, at 7:30 a.m. to the dock so they wouldn't miss their chance at a glimpse of the dolphin's journey home.
"We wanted to see what we could of the dolphin," said Panissidi, 46, of Paramus, N.J. "We're also going to drive down to the end of Dune Road to see her off."
Through an online fundraising page and private donations, the Riverhead Foundation raised about $6,000 to help pay for an 18-member team to aid in the release and a satellite tracking device, which was affixed to the dolphin before her release.
The total cost of Roxanne’s release is about $35,000, and the foundation will continue to accept donations throughout the year.
Panissidi said that her sons are even more excited to see the research that comes out of the satellite tracking device on the dolphin.
"My boys can possibly use the information for a school project," said Panissidi, who also owns a house in Hampton Bays. "There's still so much we can all learn from these beautiful creatures."