NEW ORLEANS When Seth Billiot spotted his old friend Dularge the dolphin safely swimming in a saltwater tank Tuesday afternoon, the mischievous 7-year-old itched to jump in with her.
I just want to touch her skin, Seth said. Doubled over the pools edge, the dimple-faced boy stretched his body toward the dolphins white stomach, running his hands up and down her rubber-like body. He could not stop smiling.
She feels like a hardboiled egg, said Seth.
The Billiot family, a tight-knit clan who helped bring Dularge the dolphin to safety earlier this month after she got stranded in a canal away from her mother, paid a visit to the 9-month-old mammal Tuesday. Dularge is being kept at an off-site warehouse in New Orleans run by the Audubon Aquarium of the Americas.
After petting the bottlenose dolphin, watching her nudge a herring around the pool and speaking at length with trainer Brandi Sima, the rescue-program coordinator for Louisiana Marine Mammal and Sea Turtle, the Billiots were satisfied.
Im just amazed, so pleased, said mother Wendy Billiot, who was struck most by the change in Dularges appearance.
When Billiot first encountered the calf at the end of February, Dularge was severely underweight and pocked with third-degree sunburns. Days away from death, the mammal also had a disease called dolphin pox, an infection caused by stress and the muddy bayou water that leaves patterned lesions on the skin.
The dolphins health had suffered because of the mostly freshwater refuge she found in a manmade canal near the Bayou Dularge Flood Protection Levee, which runs along Brady Road.
When the canal was built to connect the bayou to the Gulf of Mexico, it also sealed off baby Dularge from her nursing mother.
But Sima thinks Dularge got her now-scabbed and healing sunburns from hoisting herself against the canal and communicating with her mother, who eventually gave up hope of reconnecting and swam away.
A bottle-nose dolphin normally protects and remains with her calf for up to five years. Dularge was left without a mother at 8 months.
She will never be released into the wild, Sima told the Billiot family.
Seth and his older brother, 11-year-old Jeremiah, looked relieved.
Sima explained that Dularge was separated from her mother before she could learn to live on her own. The helpless but affectionate calf cannot catch her own fish or defend herself. Plus, she has …