D-Day for Dolphin

What could have been a tragic story ends happily, as Palakudawa residents along with a team from NARA help rescue a bottlenose dolphin stranded in the Puttalam lagoon.
Malaka Rodrigo reports

It was Tuesday evening, March 9. A team from the National Aquatic & Research Agency (NARA) was on their way to Kalpitiya when they received a message from their regional centre about a stranded dolphin. The dolphin had been spotted in the Puttalam lagoon at Palakudawa near Kalpitiya. The NARA team with NARA Chairman, Dr. Hiran Jayawardene, a marine mammal expert, were close to the area and decided to promptly turn around and rush there.

On a truck ride to safety
Is it ok? Anxious onlookers
Happy ending: Relieved residents witness the Dolphin being released

Reaching the lagoon around 8 p.m., they identified the dolphin as a Bottlenose Dolphin. It was about five feet in length. It was a local fisherman who had first spotted it in the lagoon around 6 p.m. according to local sources.

Checking his nets, he had found something heavy and thought it could be a big fish but seeing it was a dolphin entangled in his net, released it into the lagoon. Probably disoriented, it was unable to find its way back and was trying to keep afloat with little movement in the very shallow waters at the edge of the lagoon.

Perhaps it would have given up all hope of life already. But some of the locals gathered at the spot had other ideas. Most of them were fishermen who were saddened at the fate of this intelligent marine mammal in trouble on their doorstep.

It was Suranga, a building contractor of the area who had immediately called the Sri Lanka Navy and been directed to the NARA’s regional centre at Kalpitiya.

“The dolphin appeared to be in a satisfactory and calm condition despite the ordeal of being entangled in nets and stranded in muddy shallows and mangroves,” said NARA Chairman Dr. Jayawardene who inspected the mammal. The NARA team initially tried to guide it back to the sea through the lagoon, but found that the fishing nets laid by the night fishermen were blocking its way.

Unable to return to the sea, the dolphin again came back to the lagoon edge, looking helplessly at the people gathered there.

Neither the NARA team nor the locals wanted to give up. Someone suggested releasing it at the sea near the Thalawila Church, where considerably deeper seas would allow safer passage for it to swim to the ocean. But the proposed Thalawila sea front was about three km away — and it could be risky to transport the already exhausted dolphin. It would also take time to arrange suitable transport.

Time was running out, and they decided it was a risk worth taking. Suranga volunteered his truck and some of the men jumped into the lagoon and lifted the dolphin putting gunny bags under its body. It weighed around 80 kgs, they estimated. But luckily it did not struggle – perhaps already exhausted. With the help of the bystanders, the NARA team carefully loaded it onto the open truck. The truck used to transport building materials soon become the Palakudawa Dolphin’s temporary taxi.

To make sure it would not fall off or become panicked by the sudden jolts, a few of the men got into the open truck. Sitting on the railings, they talked to the dolphin even stroking it gently during the journey. Perhaps the intelligent mammal understood their concern for it didn’t struggle on the way to the new release point.

It was a procession of sorts that made its way to the Thalawila Church as more curious onlookers started following the truck in their vehicles to witness the unusual scene. They reached Thalawila Church around 9 p.m. The dolphin was quickly and carefully unloaded and taken to the boat landing site behind the church. Its weak state worried the NARA team at their final inspection but unable to do anything else, they decided to put it into the sea.

But as soon as it touched the ocean, the docile dolphin suddenly seemed to come to life and soon disappeared into the inky depths as the onlookers breathed an immense sigh of relief that their rescue mission had not been in vain.

NARA officials were especially appreciative of the Palakudawa residents who volunteered to save the dolphin, particularly R.G.E.R. Janser, W. Suranga, W.P.Y. Lambert, S.M. Prakash, A. Yohan Lahiru and S.M. Nisam. It was a rare happy ending for this gentle marine mammal at a time when its kind faces many threats.

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