Dolphins rescued from Island beach were likely foraging in shallows when tide went out, expert says

Four beached dolphins saved Tuesday by dozens of people who quickly answered calls to help them were likely foraging in shallow water and became stranded when the tide went out, a marine life expert said.

About 80 people converged on the beach at Oyster Bay, just south of Campbell River, to save the four white-sided dolphins who were stranded on the sand, about 150 metres away from the receding tide.

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"Thank goodness the people were there to rescue them," said marine zoologist Anna Hall. "Such large strandings are relatively rare. It suggests that whatever the four dolphins were doing, they were doing it co-operatively, such as corralling fish."

Bob Solc, who spotted the dolphins when he went out for some early-morning lawn mowing, said the group appeared to be doing just that as he watched them at 5:45 a.m.

"I noticed these guys in the bay, swimming around, looking like they were hunting food, and thought nothing of it," said Solc, who lives across the road from Oyster Bay.

He finished the lawn mowing and went inside to get ready for a trip into Campbell River for breakfast.

When he came out about 45 minutes later, he glanced over at the beach again to see if the dolphins were still in the bay.

"I saw four beached dolphins. If I hadn't have seen them before, I wouldn't have recognized the shapes on the beach as dolphins though. It's a real coincidence that I had been out there cutting grass and saw them earlier," Solc said.

He ran to the beach and the four were on their sides. One was calling to the others, Solc said — "that sound that dolphins make."

They were within three metres of each other. Solc started calling the police, fire, whoever he could think of, for help. Another neighbour called a local reporter who put the news on radio and social media. Solc and the neighbour grabbed pails and poured water on the dolphins. The two pulled one of the dolphins to a shallow streamto keep it wet.

Within an hour, dozens of people arrived at the beach. Working together, groups pulled the dolphins on tarps to the water. Several people had hip-waders, and walked into the water with the dolphins, who were all able to swim away.

"They were heavy, about 150 pounds, I'd guess," Solc said.

The dolphins had some scratches on their sides, he said, as if they had been thrashing on the beach but did not look like they had been attacked.

Dolphins often work together when hunting for food, Hall said.

"They often corral fish or else line up flipper to flipper, forcing the fish to the shallows and making them much easier to catch," Hall said. She could not say how long the dolphins would have lived had they remained beached.

"Their bones aren't designed to be on land, but rather to be supported in water."

kwestad@timescolonist.com

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