Crafton pupils to star on TV animal show


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Twelve boats and 35 marine animal experts, including veterinarians, searched for six hours in Florida for a young dolphin tangled in fishing line that was cutting into his body and threatening his life.

It took another four hours to herd the marine mammal to shallow water and subdue him with a net so that veterinarians could remove the fishing line that was cutting into his tail. They X-rayed him to confirm that no further treatment was needed, and he was released to rejoin his mother, siblings and other dolphins in the waters near Marco Island.

Students at Crafton Elementary School cheered as they watched the dramatic rescue of the coastal bottlenose dolphin they know as "Seymour." They've been watching Seymour and other dolphins since October 2011 on Skype. Seymour's rescue took place in March 2012.

The students' involvement with Seymour and other dolphins has landed them a role in an ABC television show, "Sea Rescue." A crew from the show came to Crafton Elementary on Friday to shoot footage of students Skyping with the crew of one of the boats that helped rescue Seymour.

Aidan Pickering, executive producer of "Sea Rescue," interviewed some of the students about their experience.

"This story goes to the heart of the education mission of the show," Mr. Pickering said. "It's heartwarming."

The show, which features the rescue of marine animals, including dolphins and manatees, airs locally at 11:30 a.m. Saturdays on WTAE. No date has been set yet for the show featuring the Crafton students, but it will probably be next year, Mr. Pickering said.

Susan Kosko, a reading teacher at Crafton Elementary, got students involved with dolphins in 2011 after she and her family took a trip on The Dolphin Explorer during a summer vacation to Marco Island, Fla.

The Dolphin Explorer is an eco-tour boat project started by Chris Desmond, who since 2006 has been conducting a project to observe and count dolphins, called The 10,000 Islands Dolphin Project. The crew on the boat includes marine biologists and a naturalist. The boat partners with schools, including Crafton Elementary, where students participate in Skype sessions to observe dolphins in real time.

The Skype session Friday was with James Livaccari, the captain of the boat. It was a good day for dolphin-watching, as fins and tails regularly broke the surface of the water. Mr. Livaccari pointed out Seymour as well as Seymour's mother and siblings.

"In the last eight years, Seymour's mother has had four calves and all have been raised successfully," he said.

Dolphins are identified and tracked with photographs of their dorsal fins. Like human fingerprints, no two dolphin fins are alike.

Each fin has nicks, scratches and notches that sets it apart from others.

Seymour was a "juvenile," weighing 400-450 pounds, at the time he became entangled with fishing line, Mr. Livaccari told the "Sea Rescue" crew Friday. Young calves and the bigger juveniles are curious and friendly and often will swim close to boats, including fishing boats, he said.

When rescuers used a net to contain Seymour, "he was a little nervous because at first he did not know what was going on," Mr. Livaccari said. "Dolphins are intelligent, and he knew we were not there to hurt him" and he was quiet and calm as rescuers tended to him.

Crafton students held fundraisers, including sales of pizza, cookie dough and books, to raise money to help Seymour, Mrs. Kosko said.

The money they raised was used to help purchase a tracking device that has been attached to Seymour.

Mrs. Kosko uses dolphins in reading lessons.

Students write reports about the dolphin project and keep dolphin journals. They use Skype regularly to talk with the crew to keep up with the marine mammals.

Linda Wilson Fuoco: lfuoco@post-gazette.com or 412-722-0087.


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