PHOTOS COURTESY EDWARD LYMAN / HAWAIIAN ISLANDS HUMPBACK WHALE NATIONAL MARINE SANCTUARY
Volunteers and federal officials assisted yesterday in helping a stranded dolphin in waters off South Maui. The mammal appeared to be ill and had scarring and patches of skin along its sides, an official from the Pacific Whale Foundation said.
Shark disrupts dolphin aid
Sick dolphin washes up off Maui
WAILUKU » Federal officials and volunteers tried to help an apparently sick dolphin yesterday in shoreline waters off South Maui but were forced to let it go when a shark appeared.
Report a stranding
People who see a stranded marine mammal are asked to call the federal hot line at (888) 256-9840 or Nicole Davis on Maui at 292-2372.
The Risso's dolphin, about 8 to 9 feet long, washed up against the reef north of Sugar Beach and was found by a visitor who called the Pacific Whale Foundation between 8 and 8:30 a.m., observers said.
Quincy Gibson, the foundation's director of research, said the visitor described the dolphin as in apparent distress. She notified federal fisheries officials about the stranding, and a team was dispatched to assist the air-breathing mammal.
The federal officials included Nicole Davis, designated to handle marine mammal strandings on Maui, and workers with the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary.
When initially removed from the reef, the dolphin flipped over and swam on its side, Gibson said.
People including volunteers worked in alternating teams in three to four feet of water offshore, held the dolphin upright and supported it in the water.
Gibson, who has a Ph.D. in marine mammal behavior, said the dolphin was not in good shape and had scarring and patches of skin along its sides but remained docile.
She said Risso's dolphins are not often seen by visitors on the beach because they frequent waters 1,000 feet deep or deeper, looking for squid to eat.
Helping hands tried to support the Risso's dolphin.
Two to three hours into the rescue effort, someone saw what looked like a shark, and one of the team members called for a shark spotter. A man volunteered to assist the team as the spotter.
Gibson said the dolphin soon became agitated and began thrashing.
She said people saw what appeared to be the silhouette of a shark three times and decided to let the dolphin go rather than try to restrain it.
"The dolphin was extremely agitated," Gibson said. "It was calm in the water for hours before that."
Gibson said once released, the dolphin was only able to swim out to sea on its side with its pectoral fin in the air. Neither the dolphin nor shark were seen afterward.
David Schofield, the stranding coordinator for the Pacific islands under the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, said the dolphin was swimming to one side probably because of respiratory problems and was ill.