River heroes: Dolphins rescued from Thames mud by lifeboat crews

Dolphins rescued from Thames mud

Essex Wildlife Trust staff reported a pair of stranded common dolphins at Mucking on 20 January 2020. The dolphins were on a mudbank in the River Thames just off from the Essex Wildlife Vistor Centre at Mucking and were spotted with a telescope.

BDMLR Head Office quickly mobilised Essex area coordinators James and Lisa Bryan as well as Thames Area Coordinator Sam Lipman. James and Lisa reported the access was difficult as the dolphins were approximately 200 metres from shore and on dangerous substrate.

So Essex Fire and Rescue Service, was contacted and dispatched three teams (including water rescue) from Orsett, Chelmsford and South Woodham. RNLI support from Southend was also arranged and once its hovercraft crew arrived, the three BDMLR coordinators, along with members of the Fire Service, were taken to the dolphins.

The animals were found exhausted and almost completely submerged in muddy water, making small efforts to lift their heads to breathe. The team quickly deployed inflatable walkways provided by Essex Fire and Rescue, as the mud was impossible to walk through. The animals were dug out of the mud, righted and moved using tarpaulins onto the Fire Service’s inflatable rafts, where first aid was administered.

Following a thorough assessment by BDMLR’s coordinators, the dolphins were both deemed to be in good condition and suitable for refloatation. A collaborative decision was made to relocate them to shallow water using the hovercraft. Their condition was monitored and remained stable throughout the transfer

Once away from the mud bank, team members, led by our area coordinators, entered and remained in the water with the dolphins. Further first aid was administered to restore the animals’ circulation and equilibrium. By this point, conditions were dark, increasingly cold and the tide was coming in so a second lifeboat crew was sent from RNLI Gravesend to help maintain scene and responder safety.

The animals recovered slowly, requiring continued support for over an hour before regaining enough energy to swim independently. When they were ready, showing good effort, they left the care of the responders. At the end of a long and challenging day, the most rewarding outcome was achieved, and at about 1730hr, both dolphins were observed swimming strongly away from shore.

While we are incredibly pleased with this outcome, there is still potential, as with all rescues, for the dolphins to restrand. We therefore ask, if you are spending time on the banks of the River Thames over the coming days, you look out for any dolphins.

BDMLR would like to extend a huge thank you to their national and area coordinators, Essex Fire and Rescue Service, and the RNLI Southend and Gravesend crews for the fantastic time, effort, resources and equipment. Without any one of these three agencies, we would not have seen such a positive result for these dolphins.

Thanks also goes to Hovercraft Rescue in Birchington and the police for keeping additional hovercrafts on standby throughout the rescue; to the Port of London Authority for its assistance; and to the Essex Wildlife Trust staff and member of public for your quick thinking and action after first spotting the dolphins.

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