When two juvenile spotted dolphins were discovered close to the shoreline in Mullins on the west coast last Tuesday, it raised concern among some members of the public, who quickly alerted members of the Barbados Marine Mammal Stranding Network.
The marine mammal stranding, which is an uncommon occurrence, happens when a marine creature is old, sick or injured.
“In the case of these two dolphins, they were both injured. They had wounds from a shark called a cookiecutter shark, which is a nocturnal species and a deep-water species,” marine biologist Nikola Simpson told Barbados TODAY. “[The spotted dolphins] are also very social animals, so if one is injured the whole pod or family will come in with it.”
“By time they came in, we couldn’t handle the bite. We had thought about a vet coming to look at them but they went back offshore, which is a good thing, and we hope they re-joined the pod. But if this were to happen again and a vet would be there, you could tend to the wounds depending on the degree [of the wounds].”
Simpson said the Barbados Coast Guard had helped guide the dolphins further out to sea. Since then, there have been no more sightings.
But marine mammal stranding, though rare in Barbados, occurs about every two years.
“We have had dolphins stranded in Carlisle Bay on Brownes Beach . . . . There have also been . . . dead whales on the east coast of Barbados, for example at Ragged Point. The last one was in March 2014. This animal was already dead so it may have been old and just died at sea and then came in with the currents,” Simpson recalled.
She said there are an estimated 26 species of dolphins and whales within the waters of the Eastern Caribbean.
“So quite often if you speak to fishermen or people that spend a lot of time on boats, they will tell you that they see dolphins and whales on their trips regularly but this is a few miles offshore. But the occurrence of them coming in close should pose some sort of alarm because it isn’t a normal occurrence,” Simpson noted.
As a word of advice to the public, she said if they notice any marine mammals close to shore in the future, they should contact the network, which consists of representatives from the University of the West Indies, the Veterinary and Fisheries Division; or call the Barbados Sea Turtle Project hotline or the Barbados Coast Guard, who would notify a representative from the network.
“But until professional help arrives, if you’re in water that is deeper than your waist and the animals are fine, you should just leave them. Try and stay at a safe distance.
“If possible, get out of the water because if they are injured, diseases can be passed from humans to animals and animals to humans. You’ll want to avoid looking at their blow hole which is at the top of their head – that’s where they breathe, so you want to look away from that,” she advised.
According to Simpson, in addition to attacks from sharks and other species, marine mammals also face a number of other threats, including from humans.
“Quite often nowadays they strand because they may have gotten entangled in gear; they may have been hit by a vessel; their eco-location, which is the way in which they communicate, may have been affected by boats or sonar testing at sea,” she explained.
Simpson has also been raising awareness among the public, including visiting schools to educate students on how to handle a potential marine mammal stranding.