Dolphin Rescue

Dec 17, 3pm “Nasa mababaw na bahagi ng dagat ang stranded na dolphin. Bilis!” [A dolphin is stranded on the beach. Come quickly!] With that call my training as a First Responder through the Philippine Marine Mammal Stranding Network was put to use.

Victim: Subadult Spinner Dolphin, 1.85m. She had been tossed about in the recent typhoon and was covered in cuts and scrapes along her pectoral fins, back, stomach and nose. She was extremely weak and could not control her buoyancy.

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Notice all the scrapes and cuts on her underside when I stuck my GoPro underwater to take a photo.

When I arrived a fisherman was in the water supporting the dolphin. He explained that he tried about ten times to return the dolphin to deeper waters, but she continued to return to the shallows. A crowd of people gathered on shore to watch.

How do you rescue a dolphin?! Luckily just one year ago myself and my Filipino counterpart completed a Dolphin First Responder Course (think CPR course where your dummies are actually trained dolphins. Read the Blog here) At the time I never expected to actually get to put our training into practice.

Rescue Protocol Summarized:

  1. Approach with care – 1-3 rescuers only
  2. Give supportive care – support the dolphin in an upright position
  3. Protect the blow hole, eyes, and pectoral fins – protecting the blowhole is most important so the dolphin can breathe
  4. Minimize noise – manage crowding spectators
  5. Assess condition and appropriate determine response
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Peace Corps Life…often means working in an office where losing electricity is just part of the experience but today it meant riding in an ambulance alongside a typhoon-injured dolphin!

We decided to transfer the dolphin to our Marine Breeding Station for recovery away from the still turbulent post-typhoon waters. With the help of local police and government officials the dolphin water placed onto a stretcher and loaded into an ambulance for transport.

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The dolphin was placed in a saltwater holding tank. Wet towels and frequent splashes were placed on her back to keep her skin moist, even so it started to become dry and wrinkled by day 2. The life jacket was essential, without it our weakened dolphin would fall to the bottom of the tank unable to resurface for air.

How does a dolphin drink? Although dolphins live in the ocean they need water without salt to stay hydrated. Once our dolphin was safely in a tank we began to worry about dehydration. In the wild, dolphins get enough freshwater by eating fish. Despite our best efforts Sara (they named the dolphin after me once they found out it was a girl) did not want to eat any fish. Next, Ma’am Rita tried to hold her mouth open while I spooned in ice cubes, but Sara spit those out too. Our only option was force feeding a fish/ice smoothie:

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Two towels were inserted into her mouth which Kuya Casear (yellow) and Kuya Albirth (green) used to hold her mouth open. After snapping this photo I held her body as tightly as possible to prevent movement, while Ma’am Rita (under veterinary guidance) inserted a feeding tube and pumped in fish smoothie.

By Day 2 We thought that Sara, the dolphin, was improving but then on the morning of Day 3 her cuts started to look infected. Dolphins are conscious breathers meaning they must choose to take each breath and cannot ever sleep like we do. Instead they rest one hemisphere of their brain at a time, while the other side remains awake and breathing. When Sara died on the evening of Day 3, I would guess that it was a combination of stress from losing her family and living in a foreign place, superficial infection, and physical weakness from typhoon-sustained injuries. We conducted a necropsy before burying her remains and photos/reports were submitted to the Philippine Marine Mammal Stranding Network for analysis.

Dolphins are extremely intelligent. They live in groups called pods and can communicate via clicks and calls. The brain of a dolphin contains 3xs more spindle cells, used for feeling emotions, than human brains have. They can recognize themselves in a mirror.

Today, dolphins are threatened by fishing nets, habitat destruction, and chemical pollution. The underwater explosion of illegal dynamite fishing can damage a dolphin’s hearing so that it cannot hunt for food. Although our dolphin did not survive, I hope that our response led to greater public awareness to the need to protect both dolphins and their habitat. And should another dolphin wind up injured on our beach, this community is ready to respond!

Lahat ng mga dolphin at whales dito sa Pilipinas ay nasa tala ng nanganganib na species sa ilallim ng Fisheries Administrative Order No. 208 in 2001. Kaya illegal lahat ng aksyon na sangkot ang mga dolphin at whales at sino mang mahuhuli ay papatawan ng pinakamataas maparusa. Kung may makikita kayong dolphin at whales na stranded agad-agad tawagan ang Ofisina ng Provincial Agriculture 5393567 (cell 09088662872 or 09487339431) at Bureau of Fisheries 5676011 (cell 09399385006).

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