Three dolphins were stranded by the outgoing tide at Mangersta, Lewis, way up high on the beach.
Two were dead.
By the time Ela and I arrived, two men and a woman (Judy) had got the survivor the 200 yards back to sea's edge.
Judy was holding the dolphin upright in the icy sea, it seemed almost dead, without help it just lay on it's side unmoving.
I had brought a sheet down with me when I realised there was a live stranding. Together Judy and I slid the sheet under the dolphin, and we were then able to carry it deeper into the sea using this makeshift sling.
As we waded out the dolphin started to float a bit and moved it's tail fluke slightly.
It was a chill mid-march on a Western Isles beach. The type of day when two heavy sweaters and two thin were appropriate outdoor clothing. The deeper we waded into the sea the more that tail moved. It seemed we just had to go for it and let the seawater pour into our wellies...the dolphin was starting to revive.
There were waves and Judy had reached her limit. I knew that there was a sandbar to cross between us and the open sea, so I walked and steered the floating dolphin out toward the ocean. By the time I had reached my waist depth the dolphin had begun to weakly swim though it was still floundering's onto it's side. It swam parallel to the beach, and kept veering toward the shore over and over again. I worried that it wanted to beach itself, then realised that it was probably identifying the sandbar as shore and swimming away from it - back into the beach proper. Stuck in the middle - confused and exhausted.
I waded as fast as I could to keep myself between the dolphin and the beach, and repeatedly, firmly, steered it out to sea across the sandbar, it did not seem to panic at my handling it at all - no struggling, I was reminded a lot of how I sometimes I firmly hold my dog to get a message of direction to her. I also constantly kept visualising as strongly as I could the direction of the open sea.
As we got to the ocean side of the sandbar the waves got much bigger, one of them lifted the dolphin and it seemed to become much more animated, and focused, and began to swim straight out to sea steady and strong.
My lasting memory is of it's upright fin moving directly away from me, just shrinking with distance, a wonderful sight after all those times the dolphin kept heading back to shore.
What did it feel like?
The dolphin felt like the ball of my thumb, very firm, but more fatty rather than muscle, also it seemed to be all one smooth contour like it was molded of wet clay - I could not feel any bones under it's skin.
It was a small dolphin about four feet long.
Was it a Porpoise or a Dolphin?
With hindsight it would have been a good idea to have telephoned for help early on.
Although holding it upright in the water seemed most important at the time, (and I did not have a mobile telephone...)
I was nearly at my limit of endurance, when the dolphin went back to the ocean.
Through persistence it survived - it would have been good to have someone else to take over if the dolphin had needed even just a bit more help than I was able to give. I know that there are trained volunteers for sea-mammal rescue on standby in the islands.
I know that I made mistakes.
Suzanne 18th March 2006
I read later of a sperm whale stranded near Taransay (very nearby) two weeks previous.
The stranding was reported and the coastguard arrived after 4 hours, by then the whale was dead.
Who to Call when you Find an Injured or Stranded Dolphin:
Marine Mammal Medics:
In the Western Isles we have a branch of the British Divers Marine Life Rescue, a charity that helps rescue stranded cetaceans and rescue and rehab abandoned, ill or injured seals the group are trained volunteers - Marine Mammal Medics.
The Marine Mammal Medics have been trained in how to assess whether seal pups are in need of treatment and how to safely approach and catch them, after which they are transported to Beatrice Brinkler at the Highland Wildlife Hospital in Ullapool where the pups are treated and returned to the wild once healthy. They have also been trained in how to assess stranded cetaceans and how to safely refloat them if viable, and how to keep them comfortable regardless. They are available to attend any marine mammal in need 24 hours a day 7 days a week.
The Marine Mammal Medic group in the Western Isles would very much like to increase their numbers of active volunteers in the islands, especially in the Southern Isles, and plan to run a training course in the spring of 2007. They are looking for people to train as Marine Mammal Medics and also for volunteers to help with fundraising and publicity and people to watch out for seal pups and cetaceans that may be in need of help.
Visit http://www.bdmlr.co.uk for more information.
If anyone sees a seal pup, whale, dolphin or porpoise that they think may be in need of help please telephone:
British Divers Marine Life Rescue Headquarters: 01825 765546 (Store this in your mobile phone!)
Scottish Strandings Co-ordinator (Dead Strandings) 01463 243 030
Incidentally if you do have any cause to touch a seal, dolphin or porpoise, wash your hands afterwards - especially before handling that snack bar to raise your blood sugar. These sea-mammals have such similar physiology to us that we are susceptible to many of the same illnesses.
Keep dogs away from dead ones for the same reason - dead sea-mammals are not just smelly, they are really dangerous, and irresistible to dogs.
Please note, dead marine mammals should be reported to the Scottish Strandings Co-ordinator at the Scottish Agricultural College 01463 243030 (Store this in your mobile phone)