‘People Power’ saves dolphins

A “fabulous” public response Tuesday morning saved four dolphins from death on the mud flats of Oyster Bay in Canada.

Bob Solc lives just across the highway from the bay, he was out cutting the grass around 5:30 a.m. when he first saw the Pacific Whiteside dolphins in the bay with the tide on the way out. “I noticed four dolphins in the bay just cruising around, chasing fish,” he said. “I finished my cutting and went inside to wash up, and came out and they had beached themselves right in the middle of the bay. They were feeding, the tide was going out at that point. They just got caught.”

“They were right out of the water. They were up in the mud. You could see them kick a little bit from the road every once in a while so I knew they were alive when I came out.” Solc started making phone calls.

Neighbors joined the effort. Soon the story was spreading via facebook, Twitter and the local radio station. An army of volunteers responded. “It’s fantastic,” he said. “It’s amazing how many people showed up. The road is littered with cars. It’s just nice to see all the neighbors out. We just pulled them back into that little stream (in the bay), about 20 feet. At least they had flowing water over them at that point.”

Former Campbell River Mayor Roger McDonell, a volunteer with DFO’s Marine Mammal Response Network, arrived on the scene. He’s the new owner of Stubbs Island Whale Watching and sits on the board of directors of the Johnstone Strait Killer Whale Interpretive Society. He was soon in contact with Lisa Spaven, Marine Mammal Response Biologist for Fisheries and Oceans Canada at the Pacific Biological Station in Nanaimo.

While some people kept the dolphins wet, tarps were brought down to the bay. One by one, the dolphins were gently placed on tarps and carried back out to the ocean. “This is a fantastic thing,” McDonell said. “There was a lot of people that were helping out with water. We were just trying to keep the stress level down and get them in the water as quick as possible.”

People cheered and congratulated each other as each of the dolphins swam free. “This was just an amazing experience,” Krisi Inman, a Fisheries and Aquaculture student from Courtenay who raced up to the bay when she heard about the strandings. “I just feel lucky to be a part of it. This is great.”

Spaven’s team arrived as the last of the four dolphins was released. She and volunteers monitored the dolphins to make sure they didn’t return to shore, something that often happens when whales become disoriented after stranding. Spaven said it’s not common for dolphins to become stranded along the BC coast.

“We have had some incidents of live strandings in the past,” she said. “In some cases we haven’t been able to identify the cause. In some cases we know it was due to killer whale attack, but at this point we don’t know what happened here today.

“It’s certainly a possibility that the reason they live-stranded here today was due to feeding in shallow waters and they weren’t aware of the tide. There’s also the possibility of injury or some kind of illness. There’s also the possibility that killer whales chased them in here. There have been a lot of dolphins and a lot of killer whales in the Strait of late, so we can’t really say for sure.”

Ideally, Spaven would have liked to have been able to do a veterinary assessment of the dolphins, “but due to the urgent nature of what happened here we’re just very glad that they got back in the water and they do appear to be swimming on their own.”

Source: The Province

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