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


2008-11-30 13:11:42

Common Dolphin Rescue at Frenchman's Creek, Helford, Cornwall

Mother and calf common dolphins receiving care (Photo: J. Loveridge)Alex Levine the out of hours Coordinator received a report at 09.45 from the Falmouth Coastguard that two dolphins had become stranded at Frenchman's Creek, off the River Helford. She immediately contacted Cornwall Area Co-ordinator Dave Jarvis to advise him of the situation and he was soon on his way to the scene together with medic Lesley Jarvis and Area Co-ordinator Tim Bain. Local medics were mobilised en-route and it was not long before medic CJ Howarth, who had been working at the nearby National Seal Sanctuary, accompanied by volunteer Laura, arrived at the scene, followed soon afterwards by medic Colin Pringle. They discovered two common dolphins, a mother and calf, high up on the muddy river bank at the head of a creek, which was a tributary of the Helford River. The animals were being observed by the original caller Richard Craxton and his neighbour Reg Wood. The medics immediately put into practice all of the first aid procedures that they had been taught on their training courses. Soon afterwards, Dave, Tim and Lesley arrived to meet medics Jan and Jeff Loveridge, Phil Jarvis, Jess Maynard, together with CWTMSN volunteers Roger and Jan Coombe, in the lane at Kestle, which was the nearest point of access to the incident. They soon made their way down to the river bank and joined the small team already there. Immediately upon arrival a bucket chain was formed to get water out of what remained of the river and detailed assessments were carried out on both animals and the information passed to BDMLR's Chief Veterinary Consultant James Barnett, who was making his way to the scene, as was Consultant Veterinary Surgeon Paul Riley. Not long afterwards Assistant Area Co-ordinator Bea Hawker and medic Cheryl Mills both arrived at the incident to assist with the rescue. As the animals were some yards apart, it was decided that it might be beneficial to position the calf beside its mother, who by now had been placed on an airbed. They were then heard to vocalise to each other. The breathing rates of both animals was monitored on a regular basis and recorded to assist the Veterinary Surgeons, who were on the scene rapidly as possible.

When James arrived he was appraised of the conditions of both of the dolphins and carried a detailed examination of each in turn, assisted by Paul.

Results of assessment

  • Lungs clear on auscultation (stethoscope) in both animals
  • Mucous membranes salmon pink in calf, slightly paler pink in mother
  • Hydration good in both animalsBody condition moderate in both animals
  • Only minor abrasions on both animals, e.g. right pectoral fin in mother, with some associated blood loss
  • Tattoo lesions on thorax and flanks of mother
  • Mother: left eye - some corneal oedema visible - suspect also superficial ulceration (probably occurred on stranding)

Bloods for Brucella serology and biochemistry (sample unfortunately proved unsuitable for the latter) were taken from the mother and both animals were given oral fluids (Lectade Plus), antibiotics (long acting oxytetracycline) and an anti-inflammatory agent (carprofen).

Following on from this, it was deemed that both animals were suitable for a re-floatation attempt and so began the next phase of the operation. It had already been established that it would be impossible to take the animals down the creek towards the Helford River, as the bed was deep thick mud and a considerable distance. It was also considered unwise to release the animals in a tidal estuary on a rising tide, or to remain in the same location would be too dangerous, as it would be dark before the water returned. Therefore, the only alternative would be to re-locate the animals to another beach, by way of the track back up to the lane at Kestle and then a drive to Porthallow. Fortunately, Bea Hawker had a large estate car, which she was able to get down the track to just above the river bank, whilst at the same time other members of the team removed obstructing fallen trees from the route in the river bed to provide a safer access. The animals were uplifted together and moved in single file towards the head of the creek and carefully placed in the car, on top of the re-positioned airbed. Tim Bain was also in the rear of the vehicle to monitor and treat the animals during the journey.

Upon arrival at Porthallow, the animals were immediately unloaded onto the beach and allowed to stabilise, whilst continuing with first aid procedures. A temporary windbreak, using a tarpaulin, was also erected to protect them, as there was a much stronger and colder wind. Having ascertained from James Barnett that he was happy for the re-floatation to commence, Dave and Tim issued lifejackets and formed the medics into two teams, so that the animals could be re-floated together. Unfortunately, as the teams were in the water with the animals, giving them an opportunity to restore their equilibrium, the swell picked up, which resulted in the mother making her way out to sea, whilst the calf was washed back towards the shore, but following some prompt action from medics the pair were soon re-united. The pair then proceeded to swim together parallel to the coastline for about half an hour, before apparently attempting to re-strand on nearby rocks, only for James Barnett to clamber across to discover that they were not there. As darkness fell both dolphins were observed swimming out to sea, although adjoining coves were checked in case they re-stranded.

Thanks to all of the local volunteers, veterinary surgeons and medics who produced such an important result.

Dave Jarvis
Director and Cornwall Area Co-ordinator