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Juvenile dolphin trapped in South West river following severe storm surge saved by dedicated volunteers

Craig DuncanSouth Western Times
The young dolphin became trapped in the Preston River after a significant high tide allowed it to reach new areas.
Camera IconThe young dolphin became trapped in the Preston River after a significant high tide allowed it to reach new areas. Credit: Axel Grossmann - Dolphin Discovery Centre

With youth comes risk, adventure and making the odd mistake — and as it turns out, this is even true for dolphins.

Following the South West’s wild weather earlier this month, one particular dolphin managed to find itself trapped in a section of the Preston River as the higher-than-usual tides allowed it to venture into the uncharted waters often blocked by debris.

As the tide withdrew so too did the dolphin’s chances for escape as a wall of previously submerged trees rose out of the water to block its path.

Gardeners from Thommo’s Community Garden were the first to notice the duped dolphin and raised their concerns with the Dolphin Discovery Centre.

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A member of the Dolphin Discovery Centre assesses the situation facing the trapped dolphin.
Camera IconA member of the Dolphin Discovery Centre assesses the situation facing the trapped dolphin. Credit: Axel Grossmann - Dolphin Discovery Centre

The Parks and Wildlife Service teamed up with the crew from the DDC and consulted on how best to proceed with the trapped dolphin.

DDC communications manager Axel Grossmann said the dolphin fortunately still had access to more than 200m of open water packed with fish to feed on, so it wasn’t in immediate danger.

“In a case like this, the dolphin is going to stay where it feels safe,” he said.

“For a dolphin this means ‘I can swim and I have food’.

“There would have been a pathway between the trees, you could swim it, however, for a dolphin who uses echolocation underwater, those trees would have looked like a solid wall to it.

Mr Grossmann said the DDC crew and Parks and Wildlife Service agreed it would be best to cut a path for freedom for the dolphin.

DDC volunteer Shane Garton hacks away at submerged logs with hand tools to open up the waterway.
Camera IconDDC volunteer Shane Garton hacks away at submerged logs with hand tools to open up the waterway. Credit: Axel Grossmann - Dolphin Discovery Centre

So, donning wet-suits and hand-saws volunteers took to the water cutting away at branches to open up a pathway wide enough for the dolphin to swim down.

“For hours, we had people in the water, working hard and pulling out logs with slings, chains and four-wheel-drives,” Mr Grossmann said.

Eventually the team had cleared a 3m channel, deep enough for the dolphin to swim through leading back down the Preston River to the sheltered shores of the estuary.

Volunteers Shane Garton and Natsuno Sasaki jump into the water to help free the trapped dolphin.
Camera IconVolunteers Shane Garton and Natsuno Sasaki jump into the water to help free the trapped dolphin. Credit: Axel Grossmann - Dolphin Discovery Centre

For the team, this bid for freedom soon became a waiting game.

“In the dolphin’s mind they would have been thinking, ‘I’m safe here, why would I risk swimming into an area where I’m not entirely sure where I will end up?’” Mr Grossmann said.

For three days volunteers watched as the young dolphin cautiously tested its new escape route.

It wasn’t until this Monday the dolphin took the channel and managed to rejoin its family and friends in the estuary.

“It was certainly a really good outcome,” Mr Grossmann said.

“We are going to keep monitoring the area, because obviously this could happen again.

“But having the dolphin free — thanks to everyone who helped and worked together — was fabulous.”

Community members who find a dolphin in distress should contact the Wildcare Helpline on 9474 9055 or the Dolphin Discovery Centre Bunbury on 9791 3088.

Big logs were removed from the waterway to make a path for the young dolphin to escape.
Camera IconBig logs were removed from the waterway to make a path for the young dolphin to escape. Credit: Axel Grossmann - Dolphin Discovery Centre

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