An injured juvenile striped dolphin (Stenella coeruleoalba) was spotted in the Gozo channel on Friday, but the bad sea conditions prevented rescuers from taking action, including the proper inspection of the animal.
The dolphin was spotted by a family on a boat, who stayed with it until members of Nature Trust (Malta)'s Wildlife Rescue Team arrived on site 40 minutes later. Upon instructions from the Malta Environment and Planning Authority (MEPA), an Armed Forces of Malta patrol boat arrived on site with additional members and divers of the rescue team.
The 1.5-metre striped dolphin was badly injured in the tail; it was capable of swimming but not diving, and looked malnourished. Rescuers spent about five hours at sea, struggling with force 5 wind, strong currents from the west and 2.5-metre high waves. The sea conditions made it impossible for them to examine the injured area closely, and unfortunately nothing else could be done to help the animal.
Nature Trust executive president Vince Attard said: “The decision not to bring the dolphin to land was taken to avoid further trauma to the animal. This was the best option in the circumstances, and it was recommended by Dr Anthony Grupetta, director general for veterinary services, the responsible authority with respect to such cases, and also by the British Divers Marine Life Rescue Team, which delivers courses on cetacean rescues to members of our Wildlife Rescue Team in Malta every couple of years.
“We would like to thank the family that spotted the dolphin and reported the incident, as well as the crew of the AFM patrol boat P32 for their support, and Gozo Channel personnel, who were very cooperative and altered course as soon as we informed them about the case. We also had a direct link with MEPA, and our rescuers were in touch with our international consultant, who is an expert in cetaceans.”
About two weeks ago members of the Wildlife Rescue Team found a dead dolphin at the bottom of the Rdum tal-Madonna cliffs in the Aħrax tal-Mellieħa area. The 2.5-metre dolphin was in a well advanced state of decomposition, and it was unclear whether it was a striped dolphin or a common dolphin (Delphinus delphis).
Common dolphins are one of the cetacean species that are most heavily impacted by human activities, such as reduced availability of prey caused by overfishing, and habitat degradation. They are listed as 'endangered' in the International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List of Threatened Animals.
Striped dolphins often get entangled in fishing nets and lines since they feed on fish species that are also important from a commercial point of view. The species is classified as 'conservation dependant', and without conservation efforts, striped dolphin too, would probably be classified as 'threatened'.
Nature Trust urges the public to be cautious, especially during the summer months, when Maltese waters are home to different species of marine turtles and dolphins. Fast boats and pollution can harm these creatures, most of which are endangered, and turtles can mistake plastic for jellyfish, or accidentally become entangled in loose nylon fishing lines. Further information on what people should do if they spot an injured or stranded animal can be found on www.naturetrustmalta.org. Members of the rescue team can also be contacted directly on 9942-2086 or 9942-2085.