The BDMLR team on Orkney were alerted this morning to a live stranded dolphin at Bay of Newark near Tres Ness, Sanday. Local residents Colin and Heather Headworth happened to spot the animal lying in the surf from their house and called fellow Sanday resident and BDMLR Area Coordinator Emma Neave-Webb who notified the small local team.
On arrival to the stranding site, Medics found the animal was in fact a young orca in good condition, but lying on its side in the surf parallel to the sea with the tide quickly coming in. After putting out a shout to local residents for more manpower, the team immediately set about up-righting the animal to aid breathing and to ensure the blowhole was out the water. As the tide came in and more water helped to lift the young animal, the Medics were able to rotate it to face the incoming sea and slowly move the new dolphin stretcher under the animal. Once upright it started lifting its head clear to breath and showed signs of being able to hold itself upright in the water.
After about an hour and with help from local residents to stabilise the animal, it suddenly took matters into its own fins and made a move to swim off. Unable to hold the animal any longer, the stretcher was lowered and the orca swam forward straight out towards the open sea. It rolled a couple of times and then submerged and continued straight out away from the beach without looking back. After monitoring for an hour, Medics were confident the animal was no longer in the location and are hopeful it will stay out. We will be monitoring the coast over coming days just in case.
At 3.4 metres in length, this is a young Orca around 3 to 4 years of age which is no longer maternally dependent. An incoming tide meant the focus was on righting the animal, monitoring breathing, etc so sexing wasn’t carried out but from ID photos taken, it is thought this was a young male. This might explain why there was no sign of any other animals in the bay; as a juvenile it may have left its pod or they could perhaps simply be further offshore. Certainly its good condition indicates that the animal has been feeding recently and should be able to survive.
Orca are seen fairly regularly around Orkney and in fact, the North Isles 27s pod were seen nearby off Elsness, Sanday on Christmas Day hunting seals. However, consultation with Hugh Harrop in Shetland indicates that this may not be a known animal so is perhaps not part of any of the North Isles resident pods. Strandings of Orca do occur but are incredibly rare and it is thought that this is the first successful refloat of an Orca by BDMLR in the UK.
We’d like to thank Medics Russell Neave and Imogen Sawyer, and Sanday residents Colin and Heather Headworth, Cath Swift and Simon Oldfield, Anna Halford and Martin Sawyer for all your assistance as well as HM Coastguard for advice. Also, a huge thanks to every who has supported us recently and enabled us to purchase much needed dolphin stretchers. This was their first outing and highlighted how important this kit is. We really would not have been able to refloat an animal of this size without them.
Photos: Emma Neave-Webb and Imogen Sawyer.