Common Dolphins live-strand in Inchydoney

8th Sep 2004 This morning 8th Sept 2004 at 08:30 Emer Rogan relayed a call to me from Clonakilty Garda Station that two dolphins had live stranded at the causeway between Inchydoney and Dunmore, West Cork at 51° 36 20N & 8° 53 30 W

On arrival at the site local garda and fire brigade had dug around the dolphins and in so doing ensured they were kept wet and cool. They were a mother & calf, common dolphin pair and were actively vocalizing. The only obvious sign of trauma was a deep gash on the mother where the start of the beak joins the sloping forehead, although it was hard to ascertain whether this was an old wound or a recent injury that might be part or all of the reason they had initially stranded.

Luckily the tide was incoming and the by 10:30 the estuary and the deep water channel was filling fast and with the help of IWDG members Shane Dunlea, Claire Pollock and Colin Barton, we walked/swam with the dolphins up the deep water channel at Muckross Strand. During this period it became clear that of the two, the juvenile was in better condition, and it seemed to gain both confidence and strength during this period. The mother was quite sluggish and continually veered towards the mudflats, while the juvenile had no problem swimming against the incoming tide and staying in deep water.

By 12:30 we had maneuvered both dolphins to a slipway, where members of the public gave us a small inflatable dingy, which we could move the female onto. This inflatable was towed out to and lifted on to an awaiting RIB, which had come across from Ring.

Although aware that the event had taken a greater toll on the female, the body of informed opinion, which by now included Drs Emer Rogan and Simon Ingram, UCC, was that we would attempt one refloat only, in open water. Had the mother been alone, we may not have come to this decision, but she had a juvenile with her, who was a suitable candidate for release. Our hope was that if the mother was to die, that the juvenile would be old enough to survive without her. At almost 5ft length it certainly looked capable of feeding and fending for itself, and it was in apparent good condition.

With the mother in the RIB and the juvenile following behind, we headed past the breakers at Inchydoney Strand; bringing her out well beyond the surf zone. The mother was lowered into the water and I stayed with her for a number of minutes until the juvenile caught up some 4-5 minutes later. We had by now succeeded in moving them out into open water and keeping them both together. We headed back into shore, cold yet satisfied that we had done as much as we could do given the situation and poor sea conditions.

Within the hour we received a call from Clonakilty Garda Station that one of the dolphins had stranded on the beach at Dunmore Head. It was as we suspected the mother whom we had marked by tying string around the tailstock for identification should they re-strand. By the time we got to the site, the mother had died. Yet the good news was that an observer who had seen the two of them together approaching the rocky shore, was certain that the juvenile was still swimming strongly. So our hope is that it survived, as it certainly had not re-stranded while we were present.

On inspection, it was clear that the mother had milk in her, and of course this means that if the juvenile was still being weaned that it would have no chance of survival. Yet, there is always the likelihood that at such a developed stage, the young dolphin was capable of feeding itself. We may never know.

Every live-stranding is different, and the reality is that no matter which course of action you chose there will always be those who'll say you took the wrong decision. Perhaps the most humane thing would have been to allow them both