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Spectators may have spooked wayward dolphin, expert says

April 27, 2012 |  7:02 pm

A wayward dolphin that made a wrong turn into the Bolsa Chica wetlands may have become spooked by the scores of spectators, buzzing news helicopters and well-intentioned rescuers, a marine biologist involved in the rescue effort said Friday.

The 7-foot dolphin, which has already been given the nickname “Fred” by some spectators, will be allowed to have a peaceful night with the hope that it will swim back out to sea on its own, said Paul Hamdorf of the state Department of Fish and Game.

Rescuers decided earlier in the day to call off an effort to coax the dolphin into a harness and swim the dolphin through an inlet toward the ocean.

"Trapping an animal even under perfect circumstances causes stress," Hamdorf explained. He said the dolphin seemed to be only lost, not sick.

The dolphin was apparently one of six that swam into the wetlands earlier in the week, but it wasn’t spotted until Friday -- seemingly bewildered about how to find its way back out. It is believed that the other dolphins returned to sea Thursday.

“They were probably chasing fish through the Huntington Harbour and lost their way,” said Dean Gomersall, animal care supervisor with the Pacific Marine Mammal Center in Laguna Beach.

As the rescue operation unfolded Friday, dozens of spectators lined the shores of the wetlands in Huntington Beach. At one point, traffic on Pacific Coast Highway slowed to a crawl as people craned to get a look and motorists angled their cars along the shoulder -- that is until police arrived and began issuing citations.

Daniel Gonzalez, 42, drove about 45 minutes from Huntington Park to see the mammal. The amateur photographer said he was inspired by the community's concern for the dolphin.

"It shows community support and community service for the environment," he said.

Chelsea Ward stood at the edge of the water while the dolphin swam nearby. She held up her phone, attempting to capture a decent shot.

"I'm going to have 500 tips-of-fin pictures," she joked to another bystander.

Resident Heather Swett was on her daily jog near the wetlands when she saw the crowd gathered around. She called herself a dolphin lover.

“I feel bad,” she said, standing on a bridge over the water. “I want to help somehow.”

-- Nicole Santa Cruz

Photo: The 7-foot dolphin nicknamed "Fred" swims through the waters of Bolsa Chica. Credit:  Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times