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


2006-12-14 16:17:28

Marra the friendly dolphin died of septicaemia

The dolphin carcass recently discovered in Skinburness, Cumbria and identified as Marra, the friendly dolphin seen around the coast of Cumbria over the last year, is now thought by experts to have died from septicaemia as a result of a bacterial infection.

A post mortem examination, which was carried out by specialist pathologists at the Institute of Zoology in London, has found the bacterial organism, Erysipelothrix rhusiopathiae present in all of the body tissues sampled and the conclusion is that this caused peracute septicaemia and death. This same disease agent has been seen in other UK-stranded cetaceans, including several harbour porpoises and a bottlenose dolphin that stranded in Kent in 1999.

The post mortem also reports a lack of significant scavenger damage to the carcass, leading the pathologists to suspect that Marra may have stranded alive shortly before her death.

Marra first came to notice when she became trapped and had to be rescued from the Marina at Maryport, Cumbria. Since then, she had become increasingly friendly, seeking out human contact along this coastline and suffering a series of life-threatening incidents. She received several severe propeller wounds and on one occasion was stranded on a beach and had to be released back into the sea.

Mark Simmonds, the WDCS Director of Science comments: "We will never be sure how this infection got into Marra's body but the large number of wounds that she received and the fact that she was living in shallow polluted waters may have played an important role. As a 'tamed dolphin' Marra was very vulnerable to being struck by vessels, and especially their propellers. The lesson is that solitary dolphins are very vulnerable and it is important that they are not tamed by people, swimming with them, petting them or feeding them."

Alan Knight of British Divers Marine Life Rescue, who lead her original rescue last January adds: "Marra's death is a very sad development but the risk to solitary dolphins is increasingly clear and we need to treat them very carefully and strive to ensure that they do not loose their natural wariness of people and become tame."

Typically solitary dolphins stay in a particular region for some time and often increasingly seek the company of people who turn-up in large numbers to see them, feed them or swim with them. Sadly, the fate of these dolphins worldwide is most usually not a happy one and many are wounded and killed. It is often the attention from people that leads to their injury and eventual death. Another friendly dolphin known as Jet was killed when struck by a propeller in Portsmouth Harbour earlier this year.

Local volunteers and BDMLR medics have been working hard throughout the year monitoring Marra and providing advice and guidance to swimmers and boat users. Rescue teams have had to intervene to save the life of Marra on several occasions.

This is desperately sad news for all those who have been working hard to try to save the life of this young female dolphin.