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Deflated dolphin in sea rescue at Thurso beach


By David G Scott

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British Divers Marine Life Rescue volunteers at their training session in Thurso on Sunday. Picture: DGS
British Divers Marine Life Rescue volunteers at their training session in Thurso on Sunday. Picture: DGS

When a call came in to the paper of a possible stranding of whales and dolphins at Thurso beach on Sunday we rushed to investigate the matter.

On reaching the stormy beach in the early afternoon a group of individuals were witnessed packing away equipment and pieces of specialist kit – including a very deflated dolphin.

It turned out that members of the British Divers Marine Life Rescue (BDMLR) group were joined by students from a veterinary school in London along with some local volunteers for a special training session.

British Divers Marine Life Rescue Scottish coordinator Colin McFadyen. Picture: DGS
British Divers Marine Life Rescue Scottish coordinator Colin McFadyen. Picture: DGS
Volunteers were learning how to help save stranded cetaceans and seals. Picture: DGS
Volunteers were learning how to help save stranded cetaceans and seals. Picture: DGS

BDMLR Scottish coordinator Colin McFadyen from Aberdeen said: "This is a new volunteer training session and we've quite a mix here today.

"Some are local people and others travelled over from Oban and came up from London too. There's a local team but there are trainers who have come from Moray and Inverness."

Colin said that in choosing a beach for these training operations BDMLR check what facilities are available around it and its accessibility for travelling to by the volunteers. The training sessions include the use of life-sized inflatable cetaceans and seals that are filled with water to replicate the weight of a live animal that could end up stranded on the beach or in shallow waters.

A very deflated dolphin at Thurso beach. Picture: DGS
A very deflated dolphin at Thurso beach. Picture: DGS
Inflatable seal that the group used for training. Picture: DGS
Inflatable seal that the group used for training. Picture: DGS

"It may just look like an inflatable model but the weight makes it a bit more tricky to handle," he added. The replica sea creatures they were using included a dolphin, a pilot whale and a young seal with the volunteers spending five hours on the exercise.

As high winds and rain whipped around the group of volunteers, Colin said: "It's not great conditions today if we were to do a successful refloat, to be honest. When we started it was about as much as you'd want but it's now getting a bit problematic." He said that if the volunteers were faced with such stormy conditions in a real rescue they may choose to keep, for example, a dolphin on the beach longer. "It's a bit manpower intensive but you can keep them on the beach overnight if need be."

The team battled against stormy conditions on Sunday. Picture: DGS
The team battled against stormy conditions on Sunday. Picture: DGS

Colin said the training session was an absolute success and was delighted to be hosting veterinary students who had travelled all the way from London to attend the event. Aryan Prasad Mahadevan from the Royal Veterinary College in London said: "The point of the course is to help you practice the practical skills necessary to save different species that may be washed ashore. The BDMLR relies on people across [the UK] to sign up for these courses and help save all marine wildlife."

Aryan Prasad Mahadevan, at right, with fellow students from the Royal Veterinary College in London at the training event in Thurso. Picture: DGS
Aryan Prasad Mahadevan, at right, with fellow students from the Royal Veterinary College in London at the training event in Thurso. Picture: DGS

BDMLR’s Marine Mammal Medic Course (MMMC) is open to anyone over the age of 18 and you do not have to be a diver. It is a full day training programme designed to provide you with the basic knowledge, skills and expertise to enable volunteer teams to respond to a callout and act on behalf of the animal’s best welfare interests.

Trainees are taught how to assess stranded seals, dolphins, porpoises and whales on a beach. There is also a life-sized two tonne model pilot whale which, using BDMLR’s specialist lifting pontoons, trainees learn how to refloat. The BDMLR website says: "The model is filled with water and very life-like. It is not unusual to have members of the public offer to help as they believe it is real!"

The team pack up their equipment as conditions deteriorated on Sunday afternoon in Thurso. Picture: DGS
The team pack up their equipment as conditions deteriorated on Sunday afternoon in Thurso. Picture: DGS

BDMLR is a charity that is dedicated to the rescue and well being of all marine animals in distress around the UK. If you wish to fundraise or volunteer for the organisation please visit its website for more info at: bdmlr.org.uk/

The rescue hotline number if you come across a stranded cetacean or seal is: 01825 765546.


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