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


2009-05-05 18:40:15

Common dolphin refloated, Isles of Scilly, Cornwall

At about 10.45 Area Co-ordinator Dave Jarvis received a telephone call from Sue White at Head Office to advise that a live dolphin stranding had been reported on Tresco, which is one of the inhabited islands on the Isles of Scilly. Dave quickly contacted Area Co-ordinator Tim Bain to check his availability & then medic Dan Jarvis, who was on the Lizard peninsula carrying out a seal survey. He then rang British International Helicopters, who fly from Penzance to the islands. Unfortunately they did not have a flight to Tresco until later that afternoon, but there was one scheduled to leave for St Mary’s at 12.05. The booking clerk then explained that the passengers would have to book in by 11.05, which by this time meant we only had 7 minutes, but this requirement was waived when the reason for the journey was explained. Dave gathered together some basic equipment & dashed to St Ives to collect Tim, whilst Dan made his own way to the Heliport. Whilst en-route the team were kept up to date with the animal’s condition, via telephone messages from Head Office and the welcome input from BDMLR Consultant Vet James Barnett, who had now seen photographs of the stranded dolphin and deemed it to be apparently viable, but also advising of a few physical checks to be carried out.

Upon arrival, with minutes to spare, Tim and Dan checked in with the rescue equipment and awaited their flight, although the catch was that if they were not back at the heliport on the island of St Mary’s by 17:30 then the last helicopter of the day would have to depart, leaving Tim and Dan stranded for the night on the isles (oh well!). Once the helicopter arrived they took the 20-minute ride to the island of St Mary’s, where Julie Love of the Isles of Scilly Wildlife Trust collected them. She dropped them off at the Harbour where they joined IoSWT members Danny Cooper and Becci Oliver as they boarded the Jet Boat Service, which would take them directly to where the animal had stranded at Old Grimsby on Tresco.

Once they reached the dolphin, Veterinary Surgeon Heike Dorn (of An Island Parish fame) updated Tim and Dan on the most recent details and a breathing rate count was conducted. At 17 breaths per minute the animal was still stressed despite being supported in the water, although over time this decreased with patient care. In the meantime BDMLR Consultant Vet Darryl Thorpe was updated and at this point the main concern was that the animal’s eyes were closed, and had been for the majority of the incident so far, except when Heike was able to open them and saw nothing wrong. Darryl suggested that perhaps there was some debris irritating the eye, or even minor damage which could heal over time, but recommended going ahead with a refloat attempt further offshore away from the enclosed bay that had evidently caused the dolphin confusion when it tried to swim off earlier in the day.

Nick, a local Coastguard who was watching the incident, was able to get the use of a 5m RIB moored up nearby to use for the refloatation attempt, so equipment was gathered for the operation. A tarpaulin took the place of the linen from the Island Hotel that had been used to support the dolphin, which caused the dolphin some distress, but it soon calmed down again. James, Danny, Nick, Becci, Tim and Dan then lifted the dolphin in the tarpaulin from the water and on to the boat, where it fitted nicely to one side on more Island Hotel padding. Equipment was stowed in the bow while Tim, Dan, Danny, Heike and James arranged themselves around the remaining spaces as the journey to deeper water began.

Out at sea in a line between the northern tip of Tresco and the uninhabited island of St Helen’s, the swell began to pick up and the surface became choppier. The boat remained just outside of this area in calmer waters and it was decided that this would be the best location to attempt the refloat. Tim volunteered to get in the water (mainly because he had a snorkel and mask with him) while the others lifted the dolphin over to him. Once supported by hand, the tarpaulin was removed and the animal allowed to acclimatise to its latest situation. As it started to swim everyone let go and the dolphin moved away slowly towards the bigger seas while Tim got back on board. A couple of times it veered towards Tresco, but Nick manoeuvred the boat as a barrier to discourage it from continuing towards land a tactic that worked very well in keeping the animal on course. Coincidentally, we were joined by Mark and Susie Groves of Island Sea Safaris, who were out running a wildlife watching trip (and incidentally had a member of the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society with them). They helped to monitor the dolphin as it headed further into the increasingly wobbly sea, still staying near the surface and swimming slowly until it eventually started to pick up speed and respond better to the dynamic environment. Soon the swell and sea state became too rough for us all to follow safely and we returned to Old Grimsby. The equipment was packed up and Tim, Dan, Danny and Becci piled into the back of a truck to catch the Jet Boat from the other side of the island back to St Mary’s. From there Tim and Dan (after a swift visit to a local pub) then had a lift from Dave McBride of Schiller Bed and Breakfast up to the heliport with time to spare before their arranged flight back to Cornwall was due (…damn).

Thank you to vet Heike Dorn, the Isles of Scilly Wildlife Trust, Nick the Coastguard, Tresco Island Hotel staff, Jet Boat Services, Dave McBride and of course British International Helicopters for making this the brilliant success it was, as without just one part of this integral chain of volunteers and transport providers then this dolphin may not have survived its ordeal.

Dan Jarvis
Marine Mammal Medic
British Divers Marine Life Rescue