Harbour Porpoise refloated in Orkney

BDMLR Orkney were called out on Monday 28th February to a report of two stranded dolphins at Dam of Hoxa, South Ronaldsay. The first medic on scene was able to confirm two harbour porpoises had stranded, with one unfortunately already deceased.

With light fading, additional BDMLR medics were swiftly on site in order to stabilise the surviving female prior to the arrival of a vet to examine the animal. Such an assessment is essential and always undertaken (either in person or by phone or video call) prior to a refloat in order to avoid any unnecessary suffering if an animal is too young, weak or ill to survive, as vet Leah Hunter of Flett & Carmichael Vets explains, “being able to carry out an initial assessment is crucial in deciding whether it is appropriate or fair to attempt a refloat for the animal.

“In this instance, the initial assessment undertaken in conjunction with the BDMLR veterinary team showed an animal in good condition with the body shape we would expect for a porpoise with good blubber reserves, with no signs of injury or illness that would account for the stranding.”

At 115cm in length, the young female was sub-adult (adult female length 1.5-1.9m) but no longer maternally dependent. With confirmation to proceed and HM Coastguard on scene to ensure the safety of medics entering the water in the dark, BDMLR and Orkney Seal Rescue worked together to return the harbour porpoise to the water. Whilst returning an animal to the water sounds quick, the reality is that many animals require considerable time to regain their equilibrium – a little like us humans when we come off a boat. This can be particularly true when an animal has spent many hours out of the water as happened in this case. Attending medics remained in the incredibly cold water for approximately an hour and a quarter, cradling/supporting the animal until it was ready to go, before it swam off strongly under its own steam into deeper water just before 9.30pm.

Medics checked the coastline the next morning with no sign that the youngster came back in, whilst the dead animal (also female) will be necropsied under the supervision of the Scottish Marine Animal Stranding Scheme (SMASS). Such investigations are vital in yielding information on the health and ecology of marine species. Even for a small species such as harbour porpoise, every stranding requires a large team of expert volunteers (and the appropriate safety equipment) – both on scene and in the background – in order to achieve the best possible outcome for a stranded animal. This was certainly true on this particular evening, with both Orkney Seal Rescue and BDMLR medics in the water, and HM Coastguard – Orkney & Shetland on shore providing safety cover and very helpful lighting. Without such amazing help, a refloat in the cold and dark simply would not have been possible and our thanks go to every single person involved in this rescue.

If you see a live cetacean stranded on the shore, please call the BDMLR hotline on 01825 765 546, option 1. This number is manned 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Alternatively, if you find a dead stranded marine animal, please report this to Scottish Marine Animal Strandings Scheme via email at reports@strandings.org.