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Dolphins successfully guided back to safety

March 1, 2013 |  9:05 pm

Dolphins

Two dolphins who found themselves drifting in the Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve in Huntington Beach on Friday morning were successfully guided back to the safety of open waters, officials said.

Authorities were alerted to the pair drifting in the wetlands’ shallow waters around 8 a.m. said Sarah Wilkin, a marine mammal stranding coordinator with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. 

The dolphins – one adult and one juvenile – had wandered into the freshwater reserve fairly close to Pacific Coast Highway, Wilkin said. The adult appeared to be acting strangely, coming very close to the wetlands’ vegetation.

It’s unclear how they got there and why they stayed, she added.

“There are different possibilities,” Wilkin said. “They could have been foraging and looking for fish. The animal could have been compromised or disoriented, and was lost, so to speak.”

Marine mammals do wander into the Bolsa Chica wetlands on occasion--another dolphin, nicknamed “Fred,” found his own way out last spring.

But authorities try to act fast to get the animal back out to sea, Wilkin said, because such freshwater environments can be damaging and eventually even fatal for dolphins, whose bodies  are designed to handle saltwater environments.

Experts from the Pacific Marine Mammal Center in Laguna Beach were dispatched to guide the animals to freedom. They vigorously splashed water around the dolphins to encourage them to turn toward the ocean. When the adult drew alarmingly close to the water’s edge, they physically rotated the dolphin 180 degrees. That effort didn’t quite do the trick – the dolphin turned right back to shore. 

Later, the trained officials mounted paddleboards to help guide the animals back to open waters.

Eventually – just minutes after 12 p.m. – the pair finally headed out, passing under two bridges and back out into open water.

“We’re hopeful that now that they’re back in their natural habitat, they’ll stay there – but you never know,” Wilkin said. “So I’m sure people in that area will be on the lookout.”

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-Amina Khan

Photo Credit: Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times

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