The heartbreaking euthanisation of a dolphin calf that became stranded last Thursday has renewed calls for a Mandurah-based wildlife officer.
It was 10am when the Mail received a distressed call with information that a dolphin calf was stranded at Town Beach, and if the mother couldn't be found it would need to be euthanised.
That was just a glimpse of the situation - passersby and volunteers had reportedly been working since 7am to give the two to three-week-old calf the best chance of survival.
Witnesses said attempts had been made to put the dolphin back in the water, but it became beached several times due to strong waves.
At the same time, Mandurah Dolphin Cruises and volunteers used their own vessels to search the waters for the mother (Nicky), who initially couldn't be located.
Without Nicky, the dolphin calf wouldn't survive.
Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions (DBCA) wildlife officers arrived on site more than an hour after the dolphin was reported.
Nicky was then located around 500m away in nearby waters. With boats at the ready, volunteers requested to reunite the calf. DBCA officers made the decision to euthanise, as moving the calf could have put it under too much stress and the mother may have rejected it.
A DBCA spokesperson said there was no alternative management approach that could have been undertaken in this situation.
"Wildlife officers used their operational and technical experience to assess the situation and consider the available options - in addition, veterinary advice was sought and considered as part of the decision to euthanise the dolphin," the spokesperson said.
"No time limit was applied to the decision-making process, however, animal welfare is a priority, and a decision should not be delayed if doing so will prolong the suffering of an animal.
"Euthanasia was considered most appropriate on animal welfare grounds, as a newborn dolphin calf cannot survive without access to milk or the protection of its mother."
We're more than willing to do it ourselves, but we're so restricted. Everyone just wants to help. It's so frustrating.- Estuary Guardians
Volunteers stayed at the beach until midday, cold and drenched from the rain. Some said they had taken time away from work to assist the dolphin.
The death has renewed calls for a DBCA wildlife officer to be based in Mandurah. Currently, wildlife officers are based in Perth and offer support for areas from Two Rocks all the way to Bunbury.
Only formally trained wildlife officers are legally allowed to touch or move wild animals, which can create long delays for dolphins that need urgent help.
"We've got such a big estuary and so much wildlife in Mandurah, we need someone based here so we can get a prompt response," Mandurah Dolphin Rescue volunteer Natalie Goddard said.
Volunteers have been advocating for a local wildlife officer for over a year. An online petition for the matter currently has more than 35,000 signatures.
Ms Goddard said in previous circumstances volunteers had to wait days for assistance to arrive.
"It's always us who gets to them first, and we have to try and keep a dolphin alive in that time," a volunteer said.
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According to the DBCA spokesperson, the number of workers at the DBCA Mandurah office had grown to 14 staff delivering services including conservation, reserve and wildlife management, fire management and visitor services.
Local staff are supported by a broader team within DBCA's Swan Coastal District, Swan Region and specialist branches.
The Estuary Guardians and Mandurah Dolphin Rescue Group said there were no specially trained marine personnel in Mandurah to respond to the needs of dolphins.
"If we had our own marine ranger they would know the dolphins and know the environment like we do," volunteer Barbara Sing said.
"We've got tourists coming to Mandurah and people love the dolphins here, so it's very important that we're doing our best to look after them," volunteer Robyn Bickell said, in reference to Mandurah's recent tourism award from GWN7.
Both Mandurah MP David Templeman and Dawesville MP Lisa Munday expressed their devastation at losing a dolphin calf.
Ms Munday, who held a meeting to discuss the protection of dolphins in February, said she reached out to the Volunteer Resource Group and the Estuary Guardians to offer her condolences and thank volunteers for their continued hard work with our local dolphins.
She said herself and Mr Templeman would continue to work closely with DBCA and the Minister for Environment to provide "strong support and resources to protect our local dolphin population".
Mr Templeman said he was seeking a formal response from the Minister for Environment Reece Whitby and the department regarding the distressing event.
"It is awful and I am very concerned," he said.
"I have requested a detailed response from the minister's office regarding the circumstances around the dolphins passing and the ongoing concerns that volunteer groups like Mandurah Estuary Guardians have raised about on the ground resources to protect our dolphin population."
When the Mail reached out to Minister for Environment Reece Whitby he said a decision to euthanise was never taken lightly.
"This was a tragic event that is distressing to everyone involved - including the DBCA officers who attended," he said.
"DBCA officers are very experienced in animal welfare and on this occasion they were also able to draw on the expertise of two veterinarians, including one from Perth Zoo.
"The decision [to euthanise] is made only after careful consultation considering the best available professional veterinary advice available. The minimising of unnecessary suffering is always an important consideration.
He said DBCA were committed, hardworking, passionate, and always did their utmost to preserve wildlife.
To sign the petition, click here.
If you see an injured or stranded dolphin, call the Estuary Guardians on 0407 090 284 or the DBCA Helpline at 9474 9055.
More to come as the Mail continues to explore the need for more resources to protect the region's wildlife.
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