The swelteringly hot 2021 Christmas weekend in Mandurah saw volunteers from Estuary Guardians Mandurah and Parks and Wildlife experience a 'Christmas Miracle' after teaming up to stage an urgent dolphin calf rescue in Barragup.
Diamond, the three-year-old male dolphin, was first spotted in shallow, muddy water at Black Lake by a kayaker on December 23.
With no deeper water for the dolphin to swim into, it was at risk of being stranded and as it was only partially submerged, it was also vulnerable to sunburn in the heat.
The kayaker reported the sighting to Estuary Guardians Mandurah who quickly contacted Parks and Wildlife to get the go-ahead to stage a rescue.
Estuary Guardians Mandurah volunteer Barbara Sing told the Mail that while volunteers were waiting for the proposed rescue mission, they spent their days taking turns to monitor the calf.
"The next day we went back at various times to monitor the dolphin who had started moving further south away from the river," Ms Sing said.
"We could see the calf was going through the mud - there was a black trail where it had been moving."
Ms Sing explained that the area had thick acid sulphate mud and there was no appropriate water/swimming space in the surrounding area.
"We knew from past rescues and deaths that it needed to be rescued and we spoke to Parks and Wildlife about urgently acting due to the heat and danger of stranding.
"They co-ordinated for us to attempt a rescue with them on Boxing Day morning."
Volunteers from Estuary Guardians Mandurah spent Christmas Day visiting the dolphin in case it got stranded before the organised rescue, and as soon as the next morning came, ten volunteers headed out in the 41 degree heat to join Parks and Wildlife.
"We all went out in the water and surrounded the calf and one of the Parks and Wildlife team managed to grab the dolphin.
"It was fit and healthy and couldn't see obvious sunburn, which was a relief.
"We put the dolphin into a sling and had to find a place to remove it from the lake system and transport it across the river to where it was safe."
The dolphin was stranded too far away to carry the sling and due to the total fire ban, they were unable to have a vehicle drive up to the other side of the lake - the only option was to lift together.
"The mud can be up to thigh deep with 20cm of water on top," Ms Sing said.
"It was hard going - we did have a kayak which somebody brought down, so we were able to put the dolphin in the kayak, scoot it across and then carry it out of the water and into a vehicle where it was transported across to the river."
When Diamond was released into the river in good health with only minor sunburn on his dorsal fin, he jumped out of the water twice in a remarkable display of gratitude to the volunteers.
"If it had been a full grown dolphin it wouldn't have managed to survive.
"It was a very stressful and hot day and the rescue was hard work but we are very grateful we were able to successfully carry out the rescue - it was our Christmas miracle."
Ms Sing said that a few days later, Diamond was spotted out in the water swimming near the pod where his mother Lucy was swimming.
"Diamond was recently weaned - once males are weaned they usually go off and explore the world while the females tend to stay with their maternal pods.
"We don't know if Lucy was up in the river or he was just there by himself but it was nice to see him back with his mother."
Estuary Guardians Mandurah fought for cameras to be installed at certain stranding spots to avoid volunteers having to check every day, but Ms Sing said there was also a need for community support to cover different areas.
"It is so important to have community support - just to take notice of the dolphins, maybe adopting a stranding spot and visiting it regularly - that is all really helpful.
"To rescue a live dolphin and seeing it continue - it's like having a child, it's like childbirth," Ms Sing laughed.
"Everyone's on such a high - it's a miracle."
To find out more about Estuary Guardians Mandurah, visit their Facebook page.
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