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


2006-08-06 11:28:24

Harbour Porpoise Stranding in Langstone Harbour, Portsmouth

I received the call from head office at around 11.30 informing me that the Coastguard had reports of a stranded Dolphin on the mud flats in Langstone Harbour. I asked Sue to start calling the local medics and told her that I would call my assistant coordinator down there (Jenny Taylor). Unfortunately, Jenny could not get out of work (she was only three miles away at that point), so I decided I would go myself and take my equipment.

I had a work experience lad with me and he thought he would like to come so we raced home and loaded the Dolphin Pontoons, medic box, dry suit, water sprayer and life jacket. We set off and I phoned in to tell Sue what was happening and to find out the situation. It was now a Porpoise and looked initially to be in a bad way. The Fire Brigade, Coastguard and Harbour master were on site and were waiting for our first medics to arrive.

Our newly trained medics from a local vet practice were on their way but only had basic equipment. A vet from the same practice was also on route. I asked Sue to keep me informed and said that we were about 1 hour away.

By the time we arrived the animal had been removed from the mud and transferred to a local marina that had deeper water and was a safer environment. Four of our medics were in the water with 2 members of the coastguard and the vet. They had the Porpoise supported in a carry sheet and were monitoring the breathing rate and condition. I spoke immediately to the vet Richard Edwards and was told that it was a 50/50 situation. The body condition was not brilliant but also not too serious. Breathing was around 6/7 breaths per minute and there were not many signs of body movement. I suggested that we put the porpoise in the pontoons to allow more feeling of the water movement and Richard agreed.

Although the porpoise (nicknamed Jock) was only around 3ft long we decided to use the larger sheet as we thought more support might be needed. The change over went very smoothly and was greatly helped by the fact that all the medics were familiar with the pontoons and knew what to do. Now it was a waiting game to see how the porpoise would respond.

While all this was going on the press had arrived including a TV film crew. Luckily Carl Morgan from SMLR was keeping them busy and away from us at the waters edge.

The vital people on site at this time were:

Charlie Bradford, BDMLR. Neil Sampson, BDMLR. Claire Staires, BDMLR
Alex Coburn, BDMLR. Sarah Eglan, BDMLR. Gordon Hackshaw, BDMLR
Richard Edwards (BDMLR VET). Rachel Lillywhite, BDMLR. Anna Donegan, BDMLR
Carl Morgan, SMLR. Steve Duff, Coastguard. Martin Letchford, Coastguard
Four members of The Harbourmasters crew. Jim Green and his officers from Hampshire Fire Service Animal Rescue Team

High water was going to be 1800hrs and there was a strong breeze blowing. Both these factors added to the decision that we would wait until at least 1500hrs to make a fresh assessment.

By 1500hrs Jock's (still don't know how we ended up with that name) breathing had slowed to 4/5 per minute and there were signs of movement. I made contact with our Essex coordinator, Faye Archell as she had had a lot of experience with Harbour porpoise rescue's. Richard spoke to Faye and after a long conversation he decided to give Jock a trial release to see how he would respond.

We borrowed a very large tarpaulin from the boat yard and started to sink it at the side of the slipway. We then pulled up the sides and held them. This created a large enclosed pool of water. The pontoons were moved to the side of the pool and Jock was encouraged to slip off the support and into the pool. The moment of truth. He swam around strongly at first looking for a way out. However, when he realised he could not get out his breathing increased to around 7/8 a minute. At one stage he even rolled upside down but was righted and he then just floated there. We left him for around 20 minutes by which time his breathing returned to near normal. The decision was made to go for a release if some smooth water could be found at the harbour entrance some 3 miles away by boat.

The Harbour master crew brought round there Catamaran and stationed it off the slipway. They had checked on their radios that the water was calm out by the life boat station. Jock was guided back into the pontoons and then lifted onto the boat. His breathing rose to 6/7 per minute again but stayed stable at that for most of the boat trip. When we arrived the boat crew beached the boat so that it was stable,Jock was lifted out and lowered into the water. We expected a long wait to get him used to the conditions and reduce his breathing but this happened almost immediately. He started wanting to swim off the pontoon so we formed a small horseshoe in front of him. However Jock swam off at such a speed that he went straight past us, to be seen next about 1/2 mile off shore near a marker buoy. After that we saw him only two more times and he was gone forever (hopefully).

Many thanks to all those involved especially the Harbourmaster crew, Coastguard and Fire Brigade.

We do not have many strandings down here so it was nice to have a successful outcome to this one.

Martyn Dean
Southern Area Coordinator for British Divers Marine Life Rescue