Tuesday, 21 July 2009

Dolphin baby now at risk, expert fears. New Zealand

A marine mammal expert is "hoping like hell" a dolphin rescued in the Bay of Islands this week finds its calf before it's too late.

The dolphin has been seen alive and well since it was rescued from a sandbar in Kerikeri Inlet - but there are concerns for its five-month-old calf, which cannot survive for long without its mother's milk.

The distressed dolphin was spotted on a sandbar about 10m from the water, stuck on a bed of oysters, about 8am on Thursday. Justin Fitton, a caretaker at Aroha Island nature reserve, directed the rescue until DoC rangers arrived. The dolphin was returned to the water around 10am.

By studying photos of the dolphin's distinctive dorsal fin, Jo "Floppy" Halliday of Project Jonah identified it as a 10 to 15-year-old female bottlenose known as Kiwi.

Ms Halliday said Kiwi was well known and had been coming into the Bay of Islands for at least six years.

Since giving birth early this year - the calf, Squirt, was thought to be her first - she had lived with a pod of mostly other females and juveniles.

Ms Halliday, who works as a Fullers dolphin guide, said she spotted Kiwi on her own in Albert Channel, in the eastern Bay of Islands, later on Thursday. The dolphin seemed to be in good health but Ms Halliday said her heart sank to see Kiwi without her calf.

Fresh injuries on Kiwi's belly were not serious and probably the result of being stranded on oysters.

Ms Halliday hoped Squirt was being looked after by other females in the pod, and that the two would find each other soon. All dolphins had a distinctive "signature whistle" which could carry up to 20km under water.

"We're just hoping like hell they find each other ... he really needs her milk, especially at this time of year when he needs to keep his fat levels up."

Ms Halliday said the five-month-old calf was too young to catch fish on its own and it was hard to know what had caused the stranding.

She had seen Kiwi and Squirt only a day earlier and noticed the pod was unusually subdued, perhaps because they had detected orca, their natural predators.

Kiwi could have made a mistake while chasing fish or playing with Squirt, ending up stuck on the sandbar just as the tide was going out.

Ms Halliday was pleased Mr Fitton had completed a Project Jonah marine mammal rescue course, and had been able to put the lessons into practice.

Aroha Island staff continued combing the shore yesterday in case Squirt was also stranded somewhere.

Source: http://www.northernadvocate.co.nz/local/news/

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