A white-sided dolphin that became beached Sunday on Mount Desert Island was rescued by trained responders and swam away without any apparent problems, according to a marine mammal stranding group.
An official with Allied Whale, a marine mammal research group at the College of the Atlantic, said Monday that rescuers are not sure why the juvenile male dolphin swam into a narrow cove near the village of West Tremont. White-sided dolphins, which are believed to number in the tens of thousands in the Gulf of Maine and are considered to be abundant, are common seasonally off MDI but prefer deep water, according to Lindsey Jones, Allied Whale’s marine mammal stranding coordinator.
“It appears to have stranded there during high tide [around 1 a.m.] Sunday morning,” Jones said, adding that its estimated weight was more than 200 pounds. “It was found on some mud flats in a narrow cove which would be difficult for it to navigate out of, which is why we could not re-float the animal at that site. It had some marks on it from birds attempting to scavenge on it while beached, but these wounds are minor and will heal quickly.”
The dolphin had no serious external injuries and seemed to be healthy, she said.
Dolphins — like whales, seals, porpoises and sea turtles — are federally protected animals, which means it can be a crime to harass, hunt or otherwise disturb them. Only federally licensed entities such as Allied Whale are allowed to approach or otherwise initiate contact with marine mammals or turtles.
Jones said that the group, with the assistance of the Maine Marine Patrol, the law enforcement division of the state Department of Marine Resources, decided to return the dolphin to the ocean at Seawall in Southwest Harbor, where it would be easier for it to swim out to deep water.
“We kept track of the dolphin’s vital signs and behaviors during the entire process, making sure its skin didn’t dry out,” Jones said. “As mammals, dolphins can breathe on their own when out of the water but they can get skin damage when exposed to sun on land. This dolphin’s vital signs remained normal throughout the stranding and release process, despite the stress of this situation.”
The rescue team placed the dolphin back in the water around 11 a.m. Sunday and then watched as it swam normally near shore for about 20 minutes, likely to get its bearings, and then headed directly south out to sea, she said.
Before returning the dolphin to the water, the research group marked its dorsal fin and back with a red grease marker so it can easily be identified again.
“We would like to know of any additional reports or re-sightings of this dolphin,” Jones said. “If you see these marks or any dolphin like this in the area [north or east of Rockland], please report all sightings as soon as possible by calling 207-266-1326 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org, and take photos if possible.”
Any stranded or distressed marine mammal or sea turtle spotted anywhere in the state can reported by calling the Maine Reporting Hotline at 800-532-9551.