Members of the public and marine mammal response staff came to the rescue of a stranded porpoise on Vancouver Island this week.
Paul Cottrell, Department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada marine mammal response coordinator, said he and another specialist on scene, with assistance from beach-goers at Pacific Shores Resort and Spa in Nanoose Bay, were able to help the porpoise and guide it back into deep waters Sunday, Aug. 14.
Cottrell estimated the calf was less than a month old, and said it was “thrashing” in a tidal pool. Those who called the DFO for assistance did the right thing, he said.
“It’s all about quick response with these young animals and cetaceans when they end up on land,” said Cottrell. “Gravity is really difficult. Their blood pools and they get disoriented, so it was important to get that animal back in the water and see if it could reorient itself.”
He said porpoises travel in smaller groups, usually consisting of mother and calf, and it appears the porpoise became separated.
“They were able to then take it out into deeper water and take some time with it to see if it could equilibrate and get its bearings back,” said Cottrell. “It took a long time … they ended up taking it out into deep water and giving it the best chance in releasing the animal. We’re hoping the animal met up with mom, we’re optimistic, but it’s a difficult one at that age to reunite.”
Nathalie Marie, who lives close by, said she spotted the calf and it appeared to be injured.
“There was a bit of fishing line around the snout, so we took that out and then it had a few lacerations on the body, but there was no bleeding or anything. It was caused by the rocks,” she said.
Cottrell said the injuries were superficial, but the porpoise still needed to get into deeper waters.
“They actually had a paddleboard they were able to use to get the animal out into deep waters, so it was less likely to re-strand and [was able to] get its bearings…” he said. “It swam and then, of course, it moved on and it was getting late for the folks. We’re hoping for the best.”
It’s difficult to determine why the porpoise stranded itself, according to Cottrell. It could have been avoiding killer whales because of “potential predation” or it could have been foraging for food in shallow water, he said.
Marie said it was a memorable moment.
“It was the most beautiful, little, soft creature I’ve ever touched,” said Marie. “I’ll never forget.”
If people encounter stranded porpoises, dolphins, whales, otters and similar sea life, they are asked to call the DFO’s hotline, 1-800-465-4336, available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.