At a time when there is so much evidence of careless behaviour towards wildlife it’s heartening to know that the reverse is often true. People spend time, and money, feeding wild birds through the hard winter months. Charities take on difficult, and challenging rescue and rehabilitation projects. Conservation is a main stream consideration in national politics to an extent that was hardly possible a few decades ago.
The strand isn’t an obvious menace to its flora and fauna but even though it is relatively clean and pollution free it still throws up challenges and people respond well to the occasional crisis.
Twice in the past year Bottle Nosed Dolphins have fallen victim to the changing sand profile in its shallow bay. They come into the bay, on the high tide, to hunt Mullet, Bass and other fish species and in their enthusiasm fail to notice that the dropping tide exposes sandbanks leaving them stranded in deeper channels which drain leaving them high and dry.
They stand a reasonable chance if they are hunting in the river channel which drains into the bay. Anywhere else, however, is effectively a death trap.
On the first occasion I was walking the dogs along the exposed beach and, turning inland to follow the river, saw a dolphin stranded in shallow water. A small crowd had gathered on the opposite bank and, as I approached, they got very excited. “Push it back in” someone shouted. “Keep the dogs away”. The dogs did what they were told and stood well back. Then they sat and watched. The Dolphin was obviously exhausted, probably traumatised. Its breathing was irregular and I didn’t know what to do.
“Push it back in” shouted the crowd. “Keep the dogs away.” The dogs were not causing a problem. They carried out orders and sat watching to see what I would do. Their body language clearly said, “Well! You’re in charge, do something useful.”
Dolphins are very large, heavy animals. They are muscular, hard and, if they are not being helpful, a dead weight. They are also very beautiful. I managed to get my arms around this one then turned and dragged it to a point where it was just afloat. It was so confused that it gave a half hearted wag of its tail and rammed itself into the muddy bank. I tried again with the same result. “Push it back in. Keep the dogs away,” roared the crowd. Their advice was, to be honest, becoming counter productive. I tried again. This time pulling the Dolphin into slightly deeper water. It tried another half hearted flip of its tail, then another. It then, quite suddenly, made a powerful effort and took off into the deeper channel where it had a safe route to the sea.
Mission accomplished I thought and turned around to accept a round of applause from the crowd. But they had gone. Ah! Well. At least I had the satisfaction of a job well done.
The second occasion involved two well grown Dolphins, a male and a female, which were seriously stranded in a shallow trough between sandbanks. A guardian angel, in the form of a local resident, had found then first. He spotted them at low tide, went home, donned his wetsuit, and went back to splash and support them till the tide turned. When it did he guided them in the right direction and they headed off to safety in the open sea. That rescuer spent more than an hour patiently standing in freezing water. Full marks to him.
Dolphins are highly intelligent animals. That, as Mma Ramotswe of the No: 1 Ladies Detective Agency would say “Is well known.” That being the case would these Dolphins learn by Their mistakes and pass on the knowledge to family and friends. You would hope so. And would they award Their Guardian Angel the Dolphin T.L.C medal, with a special commendation for enduring prolonged exposure to cold water, in the noble cause of Dolphin Welfare. It’s a nice idea.