Tiffany Boothe/Seaside Aquarium
Tiffany Boothe/Seaside Aquarium
SEAVIEW — A type of dolphin rarely seen in this area died on the beach south of Seaview on Sunday evening.
Police received a report of a stranded dolphin that was injured, but still alive, around 8 p.m. on April 10, Sgt. Tony Leonetti of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife said in an email.
The male northern right whale dolphin “appeared to have a large laceration on its fin and along its side,” Leonetti said. Responders attempted to put it back into surf, but the “dolphin appeared to be exhausted and was unable to swim.”
WDFW officers notified marine mammal experts at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the Seaside Aquarium, but no one was immediately available to respond to the animal, and experts believed it was already too late to save him.
“There wasn’t anything we could do for him,” Tiffany Boothe of the Seaside Aquarium said in a phone interview on April 11. Boothe said responders don’t know yet if the cut caused the dolphin’s death.
“Most likely it was sick. When a cetacean is on the beach, there’s usually a reason. Most of the time they’re sick,” Boothe said.
Boothe is part of the Oregon Marine Mammal Stranding Network, a coalition of scientists and volunteers who help with rescue and recovery of stranded ocean mammals, and research the causes of stranding. She and her aquarium colleague Keith Chandler coordinate responses to beached whales, dolphins, sea lions, seals and other marine mammals on the northern Oregon and southern Washington coasts.
Northern right whale dolphins are social animals that often travel in packs of 100 or more members, according to the NOAA website. Worldwide, there are about 68,000 of the animals. They are protected under the federal Marine Mammal Protection Act, and since the 1970s, there have been international efforts to protect this and other dolphin species. However, northern right whale dolphins are still sometimes accidentally caught in gillnets, driftnets and purse seines, and are sometimes deliberately taken in Japan.
Northern right whale dolphins inhabit the “the deep, cold temperate waters of the North Pacific Ocean” off the coasts of Northern Baja California Mexico, the U.S. West Coast, Alaska, Russia and Japan, according to NOAA. In the U.S., Boothe said, the species tends to concentrate in the waters off the coast of central California.
“It’s a very unique animal for us to have in this area. They tend to stay in warmer waters. But there is warm water current that runs off the Oregon coast that sometimes gets pushed up north,” Boothe said. “That’s when you’ll see them in this our area.”
Leonetti said this dolphin was about five feet long, and weighed about 90 pounds — a bit small for males, which usually range in size from about six to 10 feet. Boothe and Leonetti did not know the dolphin’s age.
OMMSN researchers at Portland State University collected the dolphin’s body on April 11. They will do a necropsy at their lab, Boothe said. The PSU biologists will study the animal’s stomach contents for clues about his diet, check for signs of illness and injury, and check for parasites, traces of heavy metals and other threats to cetacean health.
“A lot of it is to see what’s going on generally with the animals in our area, and why the animal died, if we can figure it out,” Boothe explained.