Wayward Bolsa Chica dolphin may have returned to sea, experts say
The wayward dolphin who mistakenly made its way into the Bolsa Chica wetlands last month appears to have returned to sea.
Officials with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's marine fisheries service said the 7-foot common dolphin — nicknamed “Fred” by some onlookers — was last spotted late Friday and hasn’t been seen since.
They believe the dolphin left the wetlands, which sit adjacent to Pacific Coast Highway in Huntington Beach.
"That’s our hope," said Monica DeAngelis, a NOAA marine mammal biologist.
Volunteers, wildlife experts and interested bystanders monitored the dolphin since it first appeared in the shallow waters April 26, DeAngelis said. The dolphin apparently swam into the wetlands with five pod mates earlier that week but stayed behind as the others returned to sea.
Although the dolphin appeared healthy, biologists were primarily concerned whether it would be able to get enough food and stay hydrated in the freshwater wetlands, DeAngelis said. They watched for changes in swimming patterns or the formation of algae on its body to signal health concerns.
Rescuers unsuccessfully tried to guide the dolphin out to sea April 26, and decided to give it a chance to leave on its own. DeAngelis said experts had a plan to remove the dolphin if needed.
“He beat our timeline by a couple of days,” she said.
In the days since the dolphin was first spotted, curious onlookers stopped along the shore to get a glimpse of the strayed swimmer and keep an eye on its progress.
“The fact that the community sort of bonded over this animal and kept watch over it and reported on it was really encouraging,” DeAngelis said. “But it’s much better to see it out in the ocean.”
— Kate Mather
Photo: Crowds gather on the shoreline to watch a wayward dolphin in the Bolsa Chica wetlands last month. Credit: Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times