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


2005-08-25 15:59:58

Medics fight to save stranded porpoise, Cornwall

At 5pm on the 25th August, BDMLR Director Alan Knight called West Cornwall Coordinator Dave Jarvis to inform him of a live stranded dolphin at Penhale Sands, Perranporth. Dave, who just happened to be in nearby Newquay, then called Medic Phil Jarvis and myself. Phil gathered Medics Claire Baker and Rachael Vine from the National Seal Sanctuary while I informed Coordinator Tim Bain, called out some more Medics and arranged pickup of the rescue trailer with Medics Caroline Curtis and Gary Hawkins.

Dave arrived at the site and found a harbour porpoise being supported on the beach by a team of lifeguards, who were keeping it wet. It was assessed to be a 4ft female in moderate condition with no injuries beyond the normal superficial cuts and scrapes, no obvious sign of illness and a good rate of breathing, so a refloat attempt was made. The porpoise swam out into the surf quite strongly, but then remained close inshore for the next 20 minutes, allowing Phil and Claire to arrive and prepare, and for contact with BDMLR Director and veterinarian James Barnett to be established. After this it unfortunately restranded. On advice from the lifeguards, the decision was made to load the porpoise into the back of one of the lifeguard’s vehicles for transport to a safer location at Perranporth, a mile down the beach. En route, another vehicle picked up Tim, Lesley, Gary and myself with the rescue equipment and joined the small convoy of trucks that made their way to the new location, meeting up with Rachael and Medic Sam Jarman.

The porpoise was unloaded and allowed time to recover from the journey. Its breathing rate remained within normal parameters and it remained fairly calm. First aid and stabilisation measures were implemented, with a bed sheet spread over the animal’s back to retain moisture and protect it from the wind and sun, KY Jelly applied around the blowhole, pectoral fin trenches dug and buckets of water continuously poured over it. Medics were cycled frequently, giving everyone a chance to work with the animal and to keep them active and warm. The responsibility of ‘beachmaster’ was also regularly passed around. As it is currently the height of the tourist season, the beach was packed with holidaymakers, meaning that it didn’t take long for word to get round. A large crowd of people soon gathered near us and were kept informed of proceedings along with the numerous members of the media that turned up throughout the incident.

At around 7:30pm a second reflotation attempt was made using the specialist dolphin pontoon equipment set. It was held in the water for a period of time before it was felt that the porpoise should be given a chance to swim off. The pontoons and mat were removed and the porpoise held by four Medics. Unfortunately, despite the good outlook on the animal’s condition while on the beach, it responded poorly, and in fact it refused to attempt to swim on its own at all. Disappointed, the mat was replaced and the porpoise brought ashore where first aid and stabilisation continued as before. However, the porpoise’s condition was now beginning to vary much more. It breathing rate was very slowly increasing, it thrashed its tail on a couple of occasions and held its eyes closed. To make matters worse, its breaths now became shallow and weak, and minor convulsions were detected shortly afterward. The deteriorating clinical health of the animal left us with no other option but to euthanase. Medic Steve Wyatt, a veterinarian, was contacted and agreed to come to the site to carry out the procedure. At this point, the sun had set and darkness was very quickly closing in. The headlights of a truck were used to illuminate the scene, also serving as a ‘warming up’ station. However, the lack of light did not deter some people from coming over to see what was happening. Medic Jenny Haley, having just finished work, now arrived at the site and helped with the continuation of administering first aid. Steve Wyatt arrived with Medic Sarah Chittock and another nurse and spoke with James Barnett on the phone. Barbiturates were prepared in syringes to euthanase the animal, which had to be physically restrained by Jenny, Phil, Claire, Tim, Rachael and myself, so Steve could safely inject it into the porpoise’s tail fluke under torchlight provided by Sarah. Within 15 minutes and after some minor convulsing, the porpoise died. Time of death was approximately 9:30pm.

Cornwall Wildlife Trust Strandings Coordinator Jan Loveridge was contacted and arrangements for Post Mortem examination made. All that was left to do was to pack up the equipment and thank everyone for a job well done.

We would like to thank the following for their help and support during this incident:

Medics: Dave Jarvis (Coordinator), Tim Bain (Coordinator), James Barnett (Director and veterinarian), Steve Wyatt (veterinarian), Sarah Chittock and the veterinary nurse, Phil Jarvis, Lesley Jarvis, Claire Baker, Sam Jarman, Rachael Vine, Gary Hawkins, Jenny Haley and Dan Jarvis.

Public: Greg Spray and his team of lifeguards for their help and invaluable use of their vehicles for transport of porpoise, people and equipment; and the news crews and members of the public for their interest, support and understanding for the duration of the rescue attempt.

Medic Dan Jarvis
BDMLR West Cornwall
(Newquay - Land's End - St Austell)

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