British Divers Marine Life Rescue
British Divers Marine Life Rescue (photo: Steve Marsh)
British Divers Marine Rescue


2007-04-24 14:55:34

Common dolphin at Eastbourne

Initially Jason Carter (on-call for BDMLR) received a call on the evening of the 23rd that a small dolphin was circling channel buoys in Sovereign Harbour. Maz from WRAS* attended and was able to confirm the animal was there until it went dark.

Early on Tuesday morning Maz returned and again confirmed the small dolphin was still present.

I and my wife Jacqui, also a Medic, dropped the kids at school and went over to Eastbourne. Here we met up with Maz and RNLI crew Mark Sawyer (Coxswain) and Hayley Beddows (Crew). Mark was able to show us some video and stills he had taken earlier which 100% confirmed the animal as Common dolphin, and reasonably small.

We then boarded the RNLI tender and slowly approached the animal so we could get a close look at its condition and size.

The dolphin was clearly not fully grown and was approx 1.5m long, probably maternally independant but certainly in need of rejoining a social group. As this animal was a Common dolphin, a pelagic (non coastal) species and was a juvenile it was immediately concerning. The dolphin was staying close to the channel buoys, perhaps in need of some kind of contact with anything in the water. It would follow our boat a short distance but would always turn and return to its circling behaviour. Its swimming movements and respiratory rate were good.

I asked Sue White at HQ to call for local medics to attend as a stranding was possible. Medics Dave and Shelley Wheelhouse kindly picked up the medic kit from BDMLR HQ and joined myself, Jacqui, Maz and further medics ; Dave Rowlinson, Toni Gray, Bill Pike and Dave & Shirley Clark on the beach close to the dolphin.

As the tide dropped the dolphin moved away from one buoy to another which remained in the deep channel. Its movements caused some concern occasionally as we observed for a few hours. For very short moments it would swim on its side and raise its head and when these movements became more regular I decided we would take a closer look from the RNLI launch again. The medics on shore prepared for a possible stranding.

As the launch was being prepared the dolphin followed a couple of passing fishing boats. It seemed to 'perk' up and swam strongly even jumping on a couple of occasions. It would, however, always return to the nearest buoy after the boat had passed.

We approached very slowly in the inflatable launch and after watching its behaviour with the other boats, decided to try and encourage this youngster out of the harbour. Initially it followed the launch away from one buoy to the next but then kept returning to this 'new' buoy each time we moved away. I then started to bang my hand on the tube of the launch and this seemed to interest the dolphin enough to follow us on to the next buoy.

At the last buoy in the harbour the dolphin would not follow us out of the harbour mouth .... we must have tried 10-15 times. I started slapping my foot in the water and, for some reason, this seemed to do the trick. The dolphin followed the launch out to the furthest marker buoy several hundred meters outside the harbour. Here we decided to leave it by slowly moving away.

We returned to the beach and the waiting team of medics and watched for some time. The dolphin did stay out of the harbour and a watch was mounted into the evening by Maz and BDMLR Medics. At the time of writing this (Thursday 26th 16.00hrs) the dolphin has not been re-sighted.

This was always going to be a tricky situation. The animal had not stranded but was certainly not an adult. Our options were limited ; sit and watch the animal progressively weaken and perhaps strand or try and get it out of the harbour so it has a slim chance of meeting up with others of its species. A group of four Common dolphins was sighted at Newhaven on the 20th April.

We can only hope that 'no news is good news' and that the animal is still alive.

Many thanks to all those who were involved ... I'll try and list them and my apologies if I miss someone out;

RNLI crew Mark and Hayley, the WRAS* and BDMLR medics who attended. Sue in the office, the Harbour Office at Sovereign Harbour and the members of the public who showed interest and support for our efforts.

There are a few more images of this dolphin in the 'cetaceans' album in the online Image Library.

Tony Woodley
BDMLR Medic/National Media Liaison Officer

(* East Sussex Wildlife Rescue Ambulance Service)