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People to the Rescue : Beached Dolphins Return to the Sea With Human Help

Times Staff Writer

A woman who peered out the window of her waterfront apartment late at night and noticed “something moving on the beach” set off a rescue effort that returned two seemingly doomed dolphins to the ocean Monday morning.

About 10 hours after Linda Clark spotted the dolphins foundering on Hermosa Beach, a team of rescuers pulled the two creatures into the water, waited for a wave, then used the outward current to propel them out to sea.

“We were all pretty surprised that they responded,” said Joe Cordaro, a biologist with the National Marine Fisheries Services, who was among those on hand as the freed dolphins were seen diving and surfacing several times as they swam off.

Because it is rare for dolphins to beach themselves, authorities speculated that the mammals might be ill. Although the pair, identified as female Risso’s or Grampus dolphins, appeared to do well once out to sea, lifeguards planned to keep a close watch along the shoreline in case they beached themselves again.

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Before being joined by several lifeguards and other county officials, Clark, 32, spent much of the night trying to comfort the beached gray-and-white dolphins, fetching a large pot from her kitchen and continuously filling it with sea water to splash on them.

“I talked to them and petted them,” she said. “They looked me in the eyes and seemed to calm down.”

Clark, a real estate agent who lives on the boundary of Redondo Beach and Hermosa Beach, said she regularly takes in the view of the beach and ocean from her apartment--"this is my turf at night,” she noted--and spotted the dolphins shortly before midnight Sunday.

She immediately telephoned county officials and went out to check the dolphins, she said.

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By morning, a small crowd had gathered with her.

John Heyning, a biologist with the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County who assisted in the rescue, said afterward that he would have given the effort to get the dolphins out to sea a “less than 5% chance of working.”

“The fate of most live stranded dolphins and whales is usually death,” he said. “Even if they are moderately sick, their tendency would be to avoid shore.”

Three lifeguards and a member of the Sea Shepard Conservation Society were able to sidle up to the creatures and pull them out into the ocean.

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One of the dolphins was about 10 feet long and weighed about 900 pounds, rescuers said. The other was about six feet long and weighed 400 pounds.

Cordaro said that there was nothing noticeably wrong with the dolphins but that they could have been suffering from an ailment not easily detected. “It could be a number of things; you just never know,” he said.

Risso’s dolphins typically stay farther offshore than their cousins, the bottlenose or common dolphins, authorities said. In recent years, however, Risso’s dolphins have frequently been observed swimming closer to shore, although scientists are unsure why.

Unlike dolphins that have long beaks, the Risso’s have rounded heads. The species feeds almost exclusively on squid, Heyning said.

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Since October, five Risso’s dolphins have been found dead along the Los Angeles-area coastline. It is believed that three died after they became entangled in fishermen’s nets and were unable to surface for air, Heyning said, but scientists have not determined what killed the other two.

Despite her long--and for the most part solitary--vigil, Clark did not seem tired Monday morning and remained on the beach well after the two dolphins had been ushered out into the deep waters.

“We had a great night,” she said of her departed companions. “It was the easiest date I ever had.”


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