It's taken a whole year, but Spirtle the bottlenose dolphin has made a miraculous recovery after what researchers feared would be a fatal case of sunburn.
Spirtle was stranded out of the water on mudflats for around 24 hours at the Cromarty Firth in Scotland in May last year. Animal welfare officers and concerned onlookers helped refloat the dolphin.
University of Aberdeen researchers have been monitoring her recovery since then as part of a photo identification survey to track her progress. Initially, they weren't sure she would pull through due to her extensive sunburn, as well as severe dehydration and UV damage.
"When we first saw her again in July, due to the extensive sunburn, dehydration and UV damage from the stranding, we weren't positive about her survival," the University of Aberdeen researchers said.
"However by September we could see the healing white granulating tissue and new normal pigmented skin and our hopes were raised."
Despite this, the scientists couldn't believe just how well Spirtle had recovered when they spotted her again last month: her wound was almost healed and she was behaving like any other five-year-old dolphin.
Dr Andrew Brownlow from the Scottish Marine Animal Stranding Scheme said it was "a miracle" she had been found in the first place.
A couple spotted Spirtle after setting out to go dolphin-watching at Chanonry Point in northern Scotland and getting lost, ending up at the Cromarty Firth instead.
"They read their map wrong and ended up on the Nigg peninsula. This whole region dries out almost entirely and they spotted the dolphin flapping in the mud," Dr Brownlow told BBC News.
Spirtle lives in a special conservation area in the North Sea, along with around 200 other bottlenose dolphins.
Following her rescue on May 29, Spirtle wasn't seen again until July, when researchers spotted her distinctive injuries. At the time, she was on the periphery of her pod.
Now, Spirtle has reunited with her buddies and has been spotted helping out babysitting her big sister Honey's calf and frolicking with a male dolphin, Foo.
The researchers are hoping this hardy little dolphin will soon have a baby Spirtle of her own. We've all got our fingers crossed for you, Spirtle.
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