Surfers took the law into their own hands today after Maritime Police failed to recover a baby dolphin separated from its mother near the beach in Ferragudo.
Announcing the coup on Facebook, surfer Jorge Nunes said: “Today we saved, or at least did everything in our power to save, a baby dolphin that had been lost and disoriented on the beach.”
But sadly delight turned to sadness very soon afterwards as the little creature died shortly after being picked up by conservationists.
Marine biologist Élio Vicente explained the “rescue” was almost certainly doomed from the start, as baby dolphins can only remain hydrated by suckling milk from their mothers.
“This one had been on its own for the best part of 36 hours”, he told us. “He would have been almost comatose by the time he was picked up – and dolphins need to be awake to be able to breathe”.
Vicente explained that there are international laws protecting dolphins from people – even people who think they are acting in the dolphin’s best interests.
For example, by law, no-one is allowed to come within 50 metres of a wild dolphin, and they are certainly not allowed to touch them.
“Dolphins are incredibly sensitive. They can suffer heart failure if they are distressed, and certainly this little one would have been very distressed”.
The calf’s carcass is now being transported to the Portuguese association for wildlife protection in Figueira da Foz, where a necropsy will be carried out to determine the exact cause of death.
Meantime, Vicente said it is important to stress the reason for legislation controlling public intervention with dolphins.
“It is all designed for safety”, he explained. “Safety of the dolphins and of people. There are diseases for instance, that can be passed by whales and dolphins to people. But more importantly, there are so many aspects that people who are not properly trained cannot appreciate.
“For every 100 animals like these that come to shore, only 1% survive”, he stressed. “And there are very few vets trained to save dolphins”.
Thus today’s tragedy was unavoidable.
Vicente, the director in charge of Zoomarine’s “Safe Haven” recuperation centre in Guia added that anyone who wants to learn more about what to do if they find a marine animal washed up on the beach, or in need of specialist assistance, can find a special foldable pamphlet ready for download on Zoomarine’s website.