It was a very moving experience. We were in the water for well over two hours, supporting an injured and heavily pregnant bottlenose dolphin. Every few minutes, I could feel her contractions under my hands.
We had been camping and whale watching for a few days on a sand bar in the Pacific waters of Magdelena Bay, Baja, Mexico.
We were returning from a whale watching outing when we noticed something large and black on the nearby beach. We landed the boat at the beach and realized it was a pregnant female dolphin who, we think, had been attacked by cookie cutter sharks and had been out of the water for a long time.
She was in great distress. She had at least seven perfectly round bites all over her body. Once we got her back into the water, we held her suspended, her belly free of the sand and her blowhole unimpeded, to allow her to recover.
It took six of us to support her, as we had to keep her up off the sandy bottom and stop her from rolling to the side. It was difficult to keep a foothold in the sand and not get too deep in the water, as there was a massive current. We took turns and one of the Mexican guides used his phone to try to get help out to us.
It was quite a mix of people surrounding her…a photographer, an IT expert, two healers, an artist, a college graduate, the local guides and myself, the tour leader. We didn’t talk much, just reminding each other to watch our footing and mind our backs. But everyone was communicating in murmurs and strokes with the dolphin, and as she began to recover a bit, she began communicating with us also. It reminded me of the noises Flipper the dolphin made on TV when I was a kid.
When she seemed stronger, we tried to push her out into deeper water. She tried to swim away but listed to one side and ended up circling back to the beach. We held her some more and tried again.
In the meantime, the guide thought a boat was coming to our aid, but it was diverted to a whale rescue. By now we were all tired and cold from being half submerged in the water.
Our group leader, Jim, arrived with extra clothes and water for us.
He showed us how to make slings for the dolphin out of life vests, which made it much easier to hold her and was probably more comfortable for her. We continued to hold her and to encourage her to swim away, but something was impeding her swimming, perhaps an internal injury or a damaged flipper.
I rang our friend Colin, a whale and dolphin expert, who was in Portugal, to see if there was anything else we could do. He didn’t think so.
Finally, the guides made the call that we would have to leave her to fend for herself. Sorrowfully and tearfully, we whispered our good wishes to her and pushed her into deeper water one more time. She again circled back in, foundering in the shallows.
The guides continued to push her into deeper water, again and again. We forced ourselves to leave, and went back to camp almost wordlessly, sharing grief and acceptance as well. It haunted me for hours that we had maybe only prolonged her agony and that she would now have to go through it all again, alone on the beach.
So a few hours later, we hiked back to the beach and to our joy…no dolphin. She had at least managed to stay in the sea and perhaps even was able to birth her baby, even if she couldn’t recover herself. We will never know for sure but I choose to believe that is what happened, and that there was some kind of a happy ending.
We were surrounded by dolphins over the next few days when we were on the boat, members of her family perhaps, announcing a new member in their pod.