PORT HARDY—A Pacific white-sided dolphin appeared to have successfully recovered from a suspected orca encounter this week after a coordinated effort between volunteers, DFO officers, Marine Mammal Rescue and Vancouver Aquarium staff to assist the injured mammal.
The animal was discovered early Monday morning by guests at Michelle Smith-Andrews’ An Ocean Storm bed and breakfast, with injuries from a suspected transient — or Bigg’s — killer whale, encounter.
“My guests from Switzerland were out for a walk and they came running back saying there was an emergency: a dolphin was stuck in the sand.”
Smith-Andrews contacted Marine Detective Jackie Hildering and the DFO, setting off a chain of calls as marine mammal experts coordinated with those on the scene to gather information, assess the dolphin’s condition and plan a response.
“He was exhausted, it looked like,” recalled Smith-Andrews, “he definitely didn’t want to go anywhere.”
In the end, little actual response was needed as the dolphin gradually regained its strength and began to circle the shallows before moving out to deeper water, to the relief of those on the scene.
“It was a moment of pure joy,” said Smith-Andrews.
Worryingly for those monitoring from the shore, the dolphin soon returned to shallower water; once stranded, dolphins are prone to re-strand themselves.
Vancouver Aquarium staff made the decision at that point to fly up, anticipating a rescue may be needed. Once again though, the dolphin moved back off into deeper waters under its own power and was last spotted in deep water at the mouth of the bay.
Aquarium staff opted to return to Vancouver.
“It was very special,” said Smith-Andrews. “I was very fortunate to be able to help.”
She commended the responders for their quick action and expertise. “It was definitely the right thing to make those calls,” she said.
Just three days earlier, an orca was freed from entanglement in a fishing net near Port Hardy in an incident witnessed not only by a Mackay Whale Watching tour but by Dr. Lance Barrett-Lennard, conducting research in the area for the University of British Columbia’s Department of Zoology.
“This entanglement ended well, but there are too many cases where well-intentioned people put themselves and the whale in further danger, and that incidents do not get reported so that the whale may be rescued,” Hildering wrote.
In the event of a stranded or injured marine mammal, the public are urged not to approach, but to call number the Marine Mammal Incident Reporting hotline at 1-800-465-4336.