Group Dolphin Stranding In Gott Bay

beached dolphinsOn the morning of Friday 9 November 2012, several islanders noted that three dolphins had become stranded high up the beach at Gott Bay opposite the Lodge Hotel. Two were freshly dead but the third was still alive although it appeared to be exhausted. I was informed by Tearlach MacDonald and Gordon Scott of the situation and visited the site at midday.

Two smaller dolphins of just over 2m in length were together just west of the Lodge including the live animal, whilst a third larger dolphin was 150m to the east. All three proved to be White-beaked Dolphins, Lagenorhynchus albirostris, a species that generally inhabits colder seas.

Formerly quite common in Hebridean waters, this species has become scarcer in recent years as the waters around Scotland have warmed up, whilst species that prefer warmer seas such as the Common Dolphin, Delphinus delphis, have increased.

Several attempts were made to refloat the live individual but as so often happens in such cases, it appeared reluctant to leave the two dead dolphins, which were likely to be part of the same family group.

Tiree sees several strandings of dead cetaceans each year, although these are mostly of single long-dead animals that may have been at sea for some time. Group strandings of freshly dead and dying animals are much rarer and can enable Post Mortems to be conducted in order to look for the causes behind such an event. For this reason, the information was quickly passed on to the UK Strandings section of the Scottish Agricultural College in Inverness, who decided to send a team out to investigate.

The following day the SAC team arrived off the ferry. They quickly relocated the live dolphin and again tried to refloat it but once more it returned to the beach. At this point, after two days on the beach, the team decided that the animal had probably suffered enough and they began considering how best to humanely put it down. Dolphins are not renowned for their intelligence for nothing however, and no sooner than the team started approaching the animal with euthanasia in mind, than it headed straight out into deeper water and has not been seen since! A good result!

The SAC team then set about conducting Post Mortems on the two dead dolphins in order to look for potential causes behind the stranding event. This involves removing samples from various parts of the body, including the blubber and internal organs, which are then analysed back in the lab. The SAC team will send through the PM reports when these are complete but an early result is that at least one of the dolphins was infected with the Brucella bacteria. This bacterium is responsible for brucellosis and may well have been a factor behind the stranding event.

John Bowler

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