Dolphin freed after days trapped in rock pool

Issued: 9 December 2020

A 2m in-shore bottlenose dolphin was freed from a small rock pool/lagoon at Flat Rock off Minjerribah (North Stradbroke Island) yesterday in a collaborative rescue mission spanning three days and involving three agencies.

Sea World staff, including a vet, along with QPWS and Quandamooka staff worked collaboratively through choppy conditions to free the trapped dolphin.

Divers spotted the dolphin on 5 December, but it was assumed it would make its own way out at the next opportunity.

However, on 6 December observers returned and saw the dolphin remained trapped in the small lagoon on the northwest side of Flat Rock. The shallow pool is about 30m long by 20m wide with the deepest point around 2.5m.

Weather conditions on 6 and 7 December did not allow vessel crews to access the site.

The Sea World helicopter flew over the lagoon on 6 and 7 December to assess the site and monitor the dolphin.

On 8 December conditions were favourable enough for a rescue mission. Rescuers reached the site and captured the dolphin using nets.

The Sea World vet assessed the dolphin, finding no major injuries and the dolphin to be in reasonably good condition, which meant it was healthy enough for immediate release.

The dolphin was transferred to a stretcher and carried out of the lagoon and released immediately.

The rescue mission took about an hour and went according to plan.

QPWS Ranger Moreton Bay Marine Park Mike Carr said the rescue mission presented challenges due to the location and the size of the lagoon.

“Conditions were challenging because the rock pool was sharp and jagged and the net we were using to herd the dolphin kept snagging,” Mr Carr said.

“Also, the depth of the pool in some places meant it was deep enough for the dolphin to swim under us as we were trying to rescue it,” he said.

“We think the dolphin could not get out because the bubbles and wash from the surf interfered with its eco-location (sonar) and it couldn’t find its way out,” he said.

QYAC CEO Cameron Costello said: “QYAC thanks everyone involved for collaboratively working in this successful rescue effort. Buangan (dolphins) are a sacred totem for the Quandamooka People.”

Sea World Head of Marine Sciences, Wayne Phillips said this was one of the trickier rescue operations the team has undertaken.

“We believe the dolphin made its way into the rocky lagoon at high tide chasing food and was unable to get back out to the open water,” Mr Phillips said.

“Thanks to the team at Sea World Helicopters, from the air we were able to monitor the dolphin over the period and put together a strategic plan on how, and when the best time would be to attempt a rescue mission,” he said.

“Despite the difficult conditions, which required rescue equipment to be boated into location, this was a fantastic outcome for this dolphin, and our experienced marine mammal and veterinarian team were proud to partner with the QPWS and QYAC rangers on this successful rescue,” he said.

The dolphin was 2m in length and most likely an adult.

The Sea World Rescue Team is on call 24 hours every day, 365 days a year should a marine animal need rescuing. Since Sea World’s opening the Rescue Team have attended many hundreds of strandings and entanglements of dolphins, whales, birds and sea snakes, pioneering new rescue techniques and equipment.

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