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


2006-07-15 10:59:52

Bottlenose dolphin stranding - Cumbria

14th July


We were in the pub when Faye Archell (Essex Coordinator & 'on-call' for BDMLR nationally) rang to ask if we could help a dolphin at somewhere between Arnside and Silverdale. As we were having a BDMLR meeting in the pub, husband Rob and Tracy Routledge were with me. I asked Faye to call Glen Budden at Barrow as he was nearer but said we would attend.

15th July


We had some difficulty finding the dolphin but we met up with Arnside Coastguard, Morecambe RNLI, Vet, Dave Williams (Co-ordinator) and Glen (medic). By the time we arrived the vet had seen and treated the dolphin that appeared fit but disoriented. The dolphin was large and remained in the water.

03:00 Morecambe RNLI had deployed a hovercraft to reach the dolphin and with all that could be achieved in the dark completed the teams stood down. The 5 BDMLR personnel returned to cars to sleep (?) until first light.

At first light, Tracy, Rob and myself started down stream following the river estuary looking for the dolphin. On our return upstream Rob spotted the dolphin on the far side on the railway viaduct.

Dave and Glen joined us and we tried to get to the dolphin. He was in a sheltered tidal pool so we had concerns that the water would remain [Images copyright Susan Premru] deep enough for him as low tide was expected to be around 09:30. He was a very large bottlenose dolphin. We maintained a watch and he seemed well and co-ordinated and our hopes rose. Would he be fit enough to make it back out to sea as the tide rose?

Obtained hot drinks and chocolate bars.

First people arrived and were surprised to see the dolphin. We were not letting anyone know about the dolphin but news travels fast in small communities and our cars had been spotted. Many others started arriving. I asked others how they had heard and it had been announced on local radio early in the morning. We realised that he could be seen from the main street of the village through the railway arches and every passing train had a good view of him in the water below.

Bacon rolls and tea. Fantastic. We were keeping watch and answering questions. We were sitting on a rocky slope supporting the viaduct. The area can be seen on a map as the estuary of the River Kent leading from Morecambe bay and an area of quicksand and a tidal bore that comes in very fast, so fast that a Klaxon is sounded to warn the public.

Klaxon sounds. Coastguard in attendance to warn onlookers of the danger as many people are now dolphin watching.

Second Klaxon sounds. Coastguard start moving people away from danger areas.

Tidal bore comes in fast. The dolphin is carried by the current to the far shore and then swept upstream along the channel. The dolphin is unable to fight against the tide and is seen to be rolling over on several occasions. He tries to get upright only to be rolled again by the current. The Arnside Coastguard have already provided us with information about this area – it is not accessible by boat as it is shallow until high tide and then is dangerous because of the fast currents. At this stage it is not looking good. We watch the dolphin through binoculars and decide to track it by car.

The once empty car park is now full of onlookers and so we set off up the coast towards Sandside, stopping at intervals to get a view of the dolphin. We have an ever growing number of cars following us.

Sandside. The dolphin can be seen 100 metres off shore, too far to reach from land and too shallow for rescue boats to reach him.

We watch as the tide turns and he is carried further away from us. Dave and Tracy go to the far shore by car to try to get to the area where we think the dolphin might reach.

We can see that the dolphin has now stranded on a sandbank between us and the far shore where Tracy and Dave are, We obtain local help and Sarah guides us to an access point near the dolphin. (Actually across fields and over and under barbed wire.) A family with a small dinghy have gone onto the sandbank and are pouring water on the dolphin. I take my shoes off and Will takes me across the deep channel to the dolphin. With assistance from the 6 people on the sandbank we get the dolphin upright and his blowhole clear of the water.

Glen, Dave and Tracy are rowed over to the sandbank to care for the dolphin.

The vet arrives and an assessment of the dolphins condition is made. The dolphin is distressed and to alleviate further suffering the decision is taken to euthanase, following consultation with BDMLr Director & Vet James Barnett.

The dolphin was a large (>3.5m) male Bottlenose dolphin. The dolphin was 100% NOT Marra, the heavily reported 'local' dolphin.

Thanks to everyone who took part in this rescue attempt, all the BDMLR medics/co-ordinators, Liverpool MRSC and Arnside Coastguard, Morecambe RNLI, Bay Rescue Team, Police and Vet. Thanks also to all members of the public who helped and supported us.

Jenny Watkins
BDMLR Cumbria Co-ordinator

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