Mandurah's dolphin rescue group appeals for community support

It’s been a big start to the year for dolphins in the Peel-Harvey estuary, with a tragic stranding bringing the Mandurah Dolphin Rescue Group into the spotlight.

The group has been running for 20 years in co-operation of the Department of Parks and Wildlife (DPaW), but as the profile of Mandurah’s much-loved aquatic mammals has grown, so too have the dolphin strandings, the rescues that follow.

Since it was established, the group has conducted over 35 rescues involving approximately 60 dolphins.

Mandurah Dolphin Rescue Group co-ordinator Sally Kirby said after the stranding that led to a young dolphin’s death early in April, the need for more specialist equipment to ensure Mandurah’s dolphins have the best chance of survival during a rescue was evident.

The Mandurah Dolphin Rescue Group volunteers were first-responders to a fatal stranding only two weeks ago. Photo: Supplied.

The Mandurah Dolphin Rescue Group volunteers were first-responders to a fatal stranding only two weeks ago. Photo: Supplied.

“Everything we’ve done up til now has been our own expense and time, and we’re more than happy to do that,” Ms Kirby said.

“However, there’s more and more incidents happening, and with Andrew, the little calf that died, there’s been a huge outpouring of emotion, love, grief, anger, there was a lot of concern over it.

“We saw that as a community, it’s time to get together and support our dolphins, and get some specialised equipment in our town.”

Since Andrew was euthanised, the group have set up a crowdfunding page to raise money that can be spent on equipment including more size-appropriate slings, floating mats and pontoons, a trailer, and a tracking device.

Ms Kirby said although they can’t save all dolphins all the time, making sure they have the right equipment means they can at least do their best.

Dolphin researcher Martin van Aswegen has been on the Mandurah Dolphin Rescue Group since he was 13 years old, and is now doing a PhD on the estuary dolphins.

During his time with the group, he’s seen first-hand the limitations of insufficient equipment and manpower.

“Normally if there is a rescue, a blanket message goes out… so it’s just a case of coordinating people who are available,” Mr van Aswegen said.

“There’s no structured training, but at every rescue there’s someone who’s done it before, or who’s experienced.

“Often we were in situations where we had to work quite hard to save the animal, to transport it in a safe manner, and we just didn’t have any proper equipment to handle it... Like, we had to transport large males, which can be 200 kilos, across muddy sand flats,” he said.

“If we had floats we can basically pick up animals in shallow water.

“This is probably the main one for me, because if we can use these floats, we can move the animal across the sand flats without having to carry them.”

He said a trailer would assist with transporting animals to spots with deeper water, or moving deceased animals to the university.

“Normally we rely on DPaW... so there’s always a delay,” he said.

The rescue group sees Bunbury’s Dolphin Discovery Centre, which has a stranding response trailer as a result of a Lotterywest Grant, as a good model, with all equipment stored in the one place to act as a kind of ‘dolphin ambulance’.

“We need local people and local equipment to be able to react quickly,” Mr van Aswegen said.

“Let’s make this town the town that loves their dolphins, and really loves them, and is willing to save them,” Ms Kirby said.

The Mandurah Dolphin Rescue Group are crowd-funding for equipment here: Dolphin rescue equipment urgently needed!

Mandurah Cruises have also come on board to help raise funds, and will hold a 70’s/80’s themed cruise on Saturday May 20, with all ticket and drink profits going towards the equipment funds.

Bookings can be made online or by calling 9581 1242.

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