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Wayward dolphin may have been bullied by others

April 30, 2012 |  5:07 pm

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A dolphin that for days has lingered in a shallow channel in the Bolsa Chica wetlands may have been bullied and prevented from leaving by fellow dolphins, according to one marine mammal rescue specialist on the scene.

When rescue crews on paddleboards tried to help the common dolphin out of the Huntington Beach nature reserve and into the open ocean Saturday, it was aggressively attacked by small group of peers thrashing in the water and was forced back into the wetlands, said Peter Wallerstein, director of El Segundo-based Marine Animal Rescue.

"He was scared, he was intimidated, he was bullied," he said.

PHOTOS: Wayward dolphin stuck in Bolsa Chica wetlands

"Dolphins can be very aggressive toward each other," Wallerstein added. "They’re not the sweet, loving, gentle animals portrayed by the movies and the cartoons. They do have a dark side."

That behavior played into the decision by crews Monday to hang back and let the dolphin return to the sea on its own rather than try to guide it into a possible confrontation.

On Monday afternoon the dolphin could be seen feeding on fish. The animal has a way out of the wetlands even at low tide, rescue crews said. But for whatever reason, it has chosen to stay.

Dolphin expert Dennis Kelly, marine science instructor at Orange Coast College, said the situation has few precedents because common dolphins usually swim in large groups offshore and rarely, if ever, make forays into harbors or channels. 

"This is unheard of," he said. 

Kelly also disputed the notion that the dolphin was bullied by his peers. 

Though dolphins are known to whack one another with their tails during disputes, he said, "I don't really think there’s bullying in the dolphin world."

Instead, the wayward dolphin's peers were reacting to its strange behavior and unwilling to leave without their companion, Kelly said.

"This guy’s in an unusual place under unusual circumstances. He’s not used to shallow water near shore," Kelly said. "When there’s a dolphin that is separated from its fellow dolphins for some reason, the others tend to stick around until they know it’s dead, and if it’s not they’ll hang around. This can go on for days."


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--Tony Barboza

Photo: Spectators watch a dolphin stranded in the Bolsa Chica shallows Saturday. Credit:  Dave Getzschman / For The Times