Fin review: Dolphin strandings in the Peel-Harvey Estuary can be fatal

Stranding danger: A juvenile Peel-Harvey resident dolphin who suffered sunburn during a live stranding. Photo: supplied.
Stranding danger: A juvenile Peel-Harvey resident dolphin who suffered sunburn during a live stranding. Photo: supplied.

The Peel-Harvey Estuary has been identified as a common area for dolphin live strandings.

Since 1987 there has been at least 40 live strandings in the estuary with several dolphins having lost their lives while stranded or shortly after due to stranding related issues such as severe sunburn.

The latest incident was recorded in December 2018 when one of the resident juveniles was observed in the estuary having suffered sunburn to its back. This individuals presumably spent time stranded somewhere in the estuary shallows while remaining undetected.

Of the approximately 80 current resident Peel-Harvey dolphins, 25 per cent have stranded at least once, some on multiple occasions. The strandings seem to be predominantly associated with spring tides with dolphins being caught in the shallows or on mudflats.

Many of the strandings have been recorded up along the Serpentine River and in Lake Goegrup as well as at the southern end of the Harvey Estuary. 

Early detection of any stranded individuals is key to ensuring their survival, especially during the summer months when the risk of sunburn is high.

In March 2018, a citizen science program, Dolphin Watch, was extended to Mandurah to involve the general public in local dolphin population monitoring by allowing them to record dolphin sightings through a mobile app also named Dolphin Watch.

The Dolphin Watch program was initially launched in 2009 to monitor dolphins in the Swan-Canning Riverpark in Perth.

Currently the program is a collaboration between the WA Government Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions (DBCA) and Murdoch and Edith Cowan Universities with several local Mandurah stakeholders involved.

Read More:

Since the program was launched in Mandurah, there has been 668 dolphin groups recorded via the app. We are particularly excited, and grateful, of all the records of dolphins in the Serpentine and Murray Rivers.

In fact, we would like to encourage people to help us monitor these areas by reporting any dolphin sightings and activity via the Dolphin Watch App. This will greatly aid in understanding when and how dolphins use these areas.

We believe awareness and more eyes on the estuary shallows will greatly increase the chances of us detecting any stranded individuals.

Should you see an animal stranded, or in distress, please call the DBCA Wildcare Helpline on 9474 9055.

Krista Nicholson is a PhD candidate with Murdoch University.