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


2011-03-14 12:26:47

Bottlenose Dolphin stranding in Highlands

Bottlenose Dolphin stranding in HighlandsOn the afternoon of Friday 11th March 2011, Tracey Meiklejohn, Caithness Coordinator, called me to report a live dolphin stranding south of Dornoch, near Nuthill. I spoke to Julia at Head Office for a location and then went to the hospital, grabbed my gear, took relevant gear from the rescue trailer and picked up Tracey.

We arrived on scene near Nuthill around 5.30pm, an hour and 20 minutes after the initial call. On arrival we found a 3 metre long bottlenose dolphin lying on sand/mud flat about 100 metres from shore line with a outgoing tide that was already at least 3 - 400 metres out the other way. There were 2 police officers, 3 coastguard and an SSPCA officer, Andy Brown, who had just arrived on scene. I phoned James Barnett with our assessment details for advice and Andy organized for a local vet to attend. From information we received we believed the Dolphin had become stranded on a rapidly outgoing tide. It seemed in moderate body condition, no trauma and breathing rate showed it wasn't stressed.

The decision was made to try and refloat if the local vet agreed after his own assessment.  He did agree so it was time to get organized as while now we had around 5 medics as well as now 4 coastguard and 2 SSPCA officers, both of whom are BDMLR as well, there now seemed around a mile between us and the water.

After several attempts to carry it was decided to move on a trailer on a quad bike. This was padded and done very slowly so as not to stress the animal. Now dark, we eventually had the animal a long way off shore and still only in thigh deep water. Breathing rate was rising when held in the water, getting stressed, though not thrashing or trying to get away. It was around this time we got a phone call from Tracey on shore who had spoken to the people who originally found the dolphin earlier. They said it was trying to get ashore and each time they put in back in the water it turned around and beached itself. Obviously this changed things drastically and it was decided to see what it would do once we stopped fully supporting it. It was one last chance that didn't work as it kept rolling over and turned back to shore. It was decided to euthanase.

This was carried out on the waterline and the body brought back to the shore, with us leaving the water around 11pm.  The body was collected the following day for post mortem by Bob Reid. We left Nuthill around 11.30pm and drove the hour and a bit back as I realised I still had the pool filling up for the seals, having drained and cleaned it in the morning.

While this was handled properly and we did what was right for the dolphin, as you all know, it was still a disappointing and sad night. I will remember it for a long time for many reasons, including being treated to a magnificent display of the northern lights from the northwest sky as we were walking back to the shore.

Many thanks to BDMLR medics Tracey Meiklejohn, Simon Eller, Gareth Duguid, Mornay Botha, Audrey Gunn and Andy Brown (both SSPCA and BDMLR),  the vet Paco Morera-Pallares, the coastguard and police.

One thing, it's never boring up here.

Jamie Dyer
BDMLR Highland Seal Hospital Manager