The RSPCA has issued a warning about how to respond to finding unwell or beached cetaceans, after two dolphins were inappropriately returned to the sea by members of the public in West Wales in recent weeks.
Officers say “well-meaning” beach-walkers have sought to help beached dolphins by moving them back into the water, but that this is the “wrong thing to do for the animals, and their welfare”.
Last Sunday (5 August), a dead striped dolphin was found on Coppet Hall beach in the Saundersfoot area.
The RSPCA had previously responded to calls in the local area about the troubled striped dolphin – who had been beaching on a member of the public’s property. Unfortunately, in seeking to help the dolphin, members of the public refloated the unwell, thin and emaciated dolphin.
An RSPCA officer inspected photos of the dolphin and could “clearly see” that the dolphin was suffering and should not have been returned to the wild in this way.
In a separate incident, the RSPCA was alerted after a washed-up, skinny dolphin was found on a Newgale beach last Tuesday (7 August). The animal welfare charity arrived to find a dolphin in poor bodily condition, which had recently died. Unfortunately, well-meaning members of the public had tried on several occasions to return the dolphin to the water.
RSPCA Cymru say dolphins tend to beach for a reason – often because they have major welfare complications, or even because they are dying. A summer plea has been issued urging anyone who finds a beached cetaceans to contact the RSPCA immediately, and not seek to refloat the animal.
Ellie West, RSPCA animal collection officer (ACO), said: “In many ways, it is a source of great pride that people across West Wales love wild animals and want to help.
“But returning a beached cetacean to the sea can be hugely counter-productive. People are obviously well-meaning in doing this – but usually it is the wrong thing to do for the animals, and their welfare.
“We were called out recently to help a striped dolphin, but this was returned to the water by members of the public.
“However, pictures of the poor thing – emaciated and thin – showed how this wasn’t the right thing by the animal. Later, we were alerted that the poor dolphin’s fate had been sealed – found dead in Saundersfoot.
“Similarly, in Newgale, we attended an incident where a very unwell dolphin had died. However, members of the public had spent some while trying to return the body to the sea – clearly kind-hearted, but sadly doing the wrong thing.”
RSPCA is also warning of the zoonotic risks of handling creatures like the dolphins found at Saundersfoot and Newgale.
The charity works with the UK Cetacean Strandings Investigation Programme (CSIP) – in part funded by Welsh Government – which investigates whale, dolphin, porpoise, marine turtle and basking sharks stranded across the UK’s coastline. Post-mortems to these animals can help establish a cause of death, and provide important insights into the health of populations living in the sea in a specific area.
ACO West added: “If anyone sees a beached cetacean, they should ring the RSPCA’s emergency line on 0300 1234 999, and provide as much information as possible about the location of the animal, and their condition. We can then do whatever we can to help – or at least alleviate the animal’s suffering as quickly as possible.
“It is a very distressing fact that often these animals are found on land with severe welfare problems, or have moved there to die. Returning them to the sea is not helping them however well-intentioned someone may be.
“There’s also substantial zoonotic disease risk of handling the animals in this way. This could be serious for human health.
“We work closely with CSIP, who do very important work in deciphering the cause of death for many cetaceans and other marine mammals. This work is vital – and where a beached, emaciated, troubled marine mammal sadly has to be put to sleep, we will often work with them so the cause of death can be established, and knowledge help support the wider population in the future.”
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