Common dolphin live stranding, Blacksod Bay, Co. Mayo 23 July 2016

4th Aug 2016

Once again, the Mullet Peninsula in Co. Mayo lives up to it's reputation as a 'hotspot' for mass live strandings of common dolphins in Ireland. Aoife Foley, a member of IWDG and the Broadhaven Bay Marine Mammal Monitoring Program (MaREI/UCC) takes up the story:

"On Saturday 23rd July 2016, the call was raised that there were 5 common dolphins very close to shore on Mullaghroe Beach, Blacksod Bay, Co. Mayo. The call came in from local resident and marine biologist, Machiel Oudejans who could see the dolphins from his home. The team from the Broadhaven Bay Marine Mammal Monitoring Programme (MaREI/UCC) responded to the call and met with Machiel on the beach.

When we arrived there were 5 common dolphins in quite close to shore on a falling tide. The animals were swimming in tight circles and zig zag patterns in waters less than 1.5m deep. The animals moved closer to shore so the team decided it was time to get into wetsuits and get ready for a live stranding. The team came prepared with a tarp and an IWDG stranding’s kit. When we got back to the beach all 5 of the animals were beached on the sand in ankle deep water.

Photo 1: Animals in close to shore about to strand (Credit Ophelie Sagnol)

Photo 2: Three members of the pod stranded on the sand. Mother and calf in front (Credit Ophelie Sagnol)

The pod consisted of one mother calf pair (calf was probably last year’s calf), and three other adults. Sex was only determined for one adult male, as priority was to get the animals back to deeper water as soon as possible. All 5 of the animals looked to be in very good condition - no obvious signs of harm could be seen.

The team along with the help of a local man who just happened to be entering the water to check a mooring, began to try to usher the dolphins back to deeper waters. The first of the animals to be moved was the mother and the calf. The calf was carried carefully by hand, by two team members, while two others slid the tarp under the mother. The tarp was used to safely carry the mother out to deeper water. The mother and calf were moved at the same time and were kept closely together to avoid any further distress. Once in deeper waters, the team were able to stay with the animals until they eventually swam off together away from shore.

The team began to move the other animals one by one into deeper waters using the tarp. Two of the animals tried to swim back to shore but team members were able to usher them out to the middle of the bay and they too eventually swam off. The last animal to be re floated didn’t look as good as the others. It was a male; sex was determined because the animal kept rolling onto its side. The animals eye was also quite dull, not as bright or as responsive as the other animals. Once out in deeper water the animal took of really fast in pursuit of the rest of the pod and we watched them until they were out of sight. The team were delighted with a successful re-float of all 5 animals. All beaches in the surrounding area were checked for a re stranding a few hours later and none of the animals could be found – even better.

Photo 3: Aoife Foley and Etienne Pouplard from the Broadhaven Bay Marine Mammal Monitoring Programme, getting ready to move the animals back to deeper waters (Credit Ophelie Sagnol)

However, the next afternoon (Sunday 24th July) at 2pm one of the team from MaREI went to check the nearby beaches and found two of the animals stranded on the sand in the bay south from Mullaghroe beach at Cartron. Photo identification photos of the dorsal fins taken the previous day, confirmed these two animals to be the part of the pod that stranded the day before.

Three members of the Broadhaven Bay Marine Mammal Monitoring Programme attended the re stranding. The animals were high up on the beach and the tide was turning to rise. The animals were covered in seaweed and wet towels to stop them from drying out. Holes were dug around the pectoral and tail fins to make the animal more comfortable. NPWS was called to inform them of the re stranding. Unfortunately, the beach where the animals re stranded is notorious for common dolphin strandings in Blacksod Bay. The bay is very tidal with lots of sand bars and there is no change in depth for 1.5km. The team waited for high tide and tried to move the animals one last time, back into deeper water. Unfortunately, the animals came straight back to shore. The team gave up and went home as there was nothing else that could be done.

Photo 4: Dr. Ophelie Sagnol from the Broadhaven Bay Marine Mammal Monitoring Programme adding seaweed to the animal to keep the skin cool (Credit Elena Akritopoulou).

Photo 5: Member of the Broadhaven Bay Marine Mammal Monitoring Programme, Dr Ophelie Sagnol, Etienne Pouplard and Elena Akritopoulou taking measurements and keeping the animals cool (Credit Etienne Pouplard).

Monday morning 25th July 2016, we went to check the beach and found the two animals still swimming around in the shallow waters. NPWS responded to the call made on Sunday. The local ranger, Irene O’Brien and members from the stranding team from Saturday met on the beach in the afternoon to find the animals still stranded on the sand, still alive. Efforts were again made to keep the animals cool and on high tide the animals began to swim around in the shallow waters but they would still not head into the channel to deep waters.

Photo 6: Machiel Oudejans local resident with the re stranded animals on the beach on Monday (Credit: Aoife Foley)

Tuesday 26th July 2016, we went to check on the animals again. The animals were really close to the sea wall at Cartron. One of the animals was dead, however the other animal was very much alive. NPWS were contacted again and plans were made to get a local vet to come down and put the animal out of its misery. Unfortunately, the local vet did not have the injection required for euthanasia so the animal was put down by other means by NPWS. The county council was called and the carcasses were buried on the beach on Tuesday afternoon.

Photo 7: Remaining animal high up in a small stream at the beach in Cartron (Credit Aoife Foley)

Thank you to everybody involved with this stranding especially; Machiel Oudejans, Dr Ophelie Sagnol, Etienne Pouplard, Elena Akritopoulou and local resident Neil who helped with the re float on Saturday.

It was a long few days but every effort was made to help these two animals. None of the other members of the pod have been found on any nearby beaches, so we can only guess that they made it back safely to deeper waters. The sequence of events highlights the need for localised marine mammal stranding plans and for direct lines of communication to be made readily available for further stranding’s in remotes areas."


Aoife Foley




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