With 3,000 dolphins beaching themselves in Peru and thousands more suspected to be dying in the Gulf Coast, now is a good time to be monitoring the beaches for confused and disoriented dolphins.
The video below shows a dolphin rescue that occurred on a Brazilian beach last month. When I first watched this video, my whole body tensed with anxiety as the dolphins hit the breaking waves of the shore and suddenly find themselves flailing in shallow waters. You can hear their calls, high-pitched whistles and chirps, over the sound of the surf.
As far as advocacy goes, this is clearly a situation that calls for immediate action. So what can we learn from this incident on the do's and don'ts of dolphin rescue?
Here's the lowdown on what to do if you see a pod swimming your way:
1. First things first: Put someone on camera duty. Don't then ask this person to hold your shorts — that's someone else's job.
2. It's calving season, some baby dolphins will be smaller than others. But adult dolphins are much like adult humans in terms of weight (150-240 pounds) and height (5 to 6+ feet long) — and like sunscreened people on the beach, they're slippery. So, don't try a fireman's carry.
3. Dolphin skin is actually very delicate. If you have long manicured fingernails, you'll be doing everyone a favor if you hold the shorts, wallets, keys … I just hope the people handing you these items know you.
4. Be like the guys in the video with the orange shirts who take action and get the rescue going. Did you see that one guy just kick off his flip-flops without a moment's hesitation and let them drift? I swear I want to give that man a kiss! He's my hero.
5. The tail-grab: This is clearly the most effectual way of dragging the dolphins to deeper waters. But try to keep their bodies as close to a horizontal plain as possible. At higher angles a dolphin is more likely to try and kick its tail out of your grasp — probably because you are dragging its beak in the sand.
6. Orienting the dolphin tail toward the water in preparation for a tail-grab drag can be a two-person job, best done with the helper at the front of the dolphin and the dragger at the back. But it is possible for a single person to pivot the dolphin just by the tail if necessary.
7. The farther out to deeper waters you can drag a dolphin, the more likely it is not to wash back ashore on the next incoming wave.
8. Know your limits — don't expect the dolphin to rescue you in turn if you don't know how to swim in deep water.
9. Timing is critical: In the case of outgoing tides, the situation can go from bad to worse in a matter of minutes. The entire rescue shown in this video took less than 3 minutes!
10. Congratulations to everyone involved! Amazing job — well done!!
Video filmed at 8 a.m. by Gerd Traue on March 5, 2012, on the beach of Arraial do Cabo, Brazil.