Not a usual Friday night!20th May 2017
Just as we were finishing in the office on Friday evening, Mick O'Connell (IWDG Strandings Officer), notified us that he'd received a call about a live stranded dolphin in Doughmore Bay in Doonbeg. Live stranding calls alway conjure hopes that the animal can be refloated, combined with fears that by the time you get there it may be too late, or that the animal may not have adequate body condition to survive in the wild. Hoping for the best, the team departed the IWDG headquarters in Kilrush, Co Clare, and took the short journey to Doughmore Bay, which is in front of the (now) infamous Trump Hotel in Doonbeg.
First to arrive were live stranding newbies, Lorraine Bull (IWDG General Manager), and Sarah Wilson, who is completing an MSc in Marine Systems and Policy at Edinburgh University. The first role was to access the scene and to stop a well-meaning passerby from dragging the dolphin into the surf by the tail! The dolphin was confirmed as a common dolphin and was very much alive, as it could be seen thrashing its tail every time heavy surf caused it to turn on its side. The dolphin was kept cool by a wet towel and prevented from rolling by holding it gently on either side. Water was also prevented from entering its blow hole by raising its head gently every time a large wave crashed in.
Stabilising the dolphin with first aid on the beach Photos: Simon Berrow
Simon Berrow (IWDG CEO and Chief Science Officer), Frances Bermingham (IWDG Director) and Cuan and Muireann Berrow then arrived with the IWDG jeep (and dry suits!). The dolphin was then measured and identified as an immature (1.6m) male before being taken into the surf. Its condition was assessed and showed no signs of emaciation or lesions or disease, and was determined as a good candidate for refloating. A re-floatation was attempted by guiding the animal out into deeper water. However, the strength of the waves made the dolphin come back into the beach and so it was decided to transport the animal to nearby Doonbeg pier, in a more sheltered bay in Doonbeg. We hoped the hard substrate and deep water and absence of swell would enable the dolphin to echolocate and orientate itself out to sea, which is more difficult on the sandy, gentle, sloping beach at Doughmore. Once again the dolphin was re-floated and it began to swim around the bay as if orientating itself. The tide was flooding and the dolphin was being pushed into the bay, rather than out. As the light was fading fast, all we could do was keep a watchful eye on him and hope that he would head out into the open sea once more.
Watch video of the attempt to refloat on the beach here: https://youtu.be/KQQ2gmBSf2U
Watch video of refloating attempt at Doonbeg Pier here: https://youtu.be/_7s4DDiEH4c
Early the following morning, Simon headed back down to the pier, but our fears were confirmed when the animal had re-stranded again. It was stuck between two rocks, with the tide flooding and had gashed its tail, presumably while re-stranding. Two options lay before us - try and re-float again or consider euthanasia. As the animal's outer body condition was still good, and wanting to give an animal every chance, it was decided to try and re-float again. Unfortunately, though, on a live stranding, it's not always possible to get the outcome you hope for. This time, when placing the animal in the water, it became apparent that the prognosis for the animal's survival was poor and we had to accept that a further re-flotation would cause it further stress and suffering and the animal was taken to the vet for euthanasia.
Watch video of dolphin stranded on the beach at Doonbeg (warning it is slightly distessing): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=amkGXWesgV0&feature=em-upload_owner
Photo far left: Dolphin stabilised on a stretcher in Shannon Dolphin Centre.
Photo left: Pieter prepares to euthanise the dolphin. Photos: Frances Bermingham
The live stranding of such majestic and intelligent animals is always a difficult experience, combining the exaltation of an initial successful re-float with the sadness of a (sometimes) unsuccessful outcome. Not a usual Friday night, granted, but while we can offer help where we can, a night we wouldn't swap for the world.
This common dolphin will, alas, join our strandings database, which this past winter has seen the highest numbers of strandings we have on record for the species, but we will continue to push for the establishment of postmortem examinations so we can find out what's causing so many of these lovely dolphins to strand on our shores.
Many thanks to Billy O'Brien, the Doonbeg surfer who reported the stranding to us, Patrick Browne for help in recovering the dolphin from Doonbeg pier and vets Magda Stopka and Pieter Drozdzowski of Harvey's Veterinary Clinic in Kilrush for euthanising the dolphin.
IWDG General Manager and Communications Officer