An internationally-renowned dolphin researcher has slammed the handling of a dolphin calf emergency in Mandurah last month.
The Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions (DBCA) euthanised a two-week-old dolphin calf after it was stranded on a Mandurah beach in late June.
Dr Krista Nicholson said she believed attempts should have ben made to put the calf back in the water.
But the DBCA argues it made its decision based on vet advice, not wanting to prolong the animal's suffering and no signs of adult dolphins nearby.
"While distressing for DBCA staff and members of the public who were present onsite, it is considered that there was no alternative management approach that could have been undertaken in this situation.
"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."
But Dr Nicholson said actions taken were inconsistent.
"Why was this decision taken this time, when last time it was different?" she said.
"It feels like there is always an inconsistency in who is going to attend the strandings, whether the animals will be relocated or not. It just raises the question of why not? There's a lot of questions that need to be answered."
Dr Nicholson said there was a similar calf stranding incident in 2017, where a calf was stranded in the Peel inlet. She said the dolphin was kept calm, wet and comfortable, and the time was given by the DBCA to locate the dolphin mother.
The DBCA spokesperson said no time limit was applied to the decision-making process but the calf's welfare needed to be considered.
Dr Nicholson said according to her research, it was normal behaviour for Mandurah dolphins to become separated from each other, especially mothers and calves, for hours at a time.
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Dr Nicholson said "the most appropriate scientific research is not taken into account when making decisions".
"I've spent what feels like millions of hours to get this information, and for that to not be taken into account in decision making? It's insulting."
The DBCA says its actions were based on more than 35 years of operational responses to incidents by DBCA employees and further refined by engaging and collaborating with interstate and international partner agencies and response organisations.
Dr Nicholson said she had expressed to the DBCA on many occasions that the highest priority for Mandurah's waterways needed to be preventing calf mortality, as this was the biggest threat to the population.
"When it comes to euthanising an animal, that decision needs to be reached following a due process, and the crux of the issue is 'What is the due process? How are these decisions made if we don't have policy?'"
The DBCA said it was in the final stages of developing a policy for marine fauna incident responses.
Dr Nicholson said she hoped the policy would provide some consistency on what to expect for each dolphin stranding incident.
"It's difficult to feel like any improvements have been made in terms of resourcing or staff responding to events."
Dr Nicholson's research surrounds the social nature of Mandurah's dolphins, and looking into the role the dolphins have on ecology of the estuary and coastal waters.
She said the Peel Harvey estuary was a hot spot for live strandings.
"This is a natural phenomenon where very little can be done to prevent these incidents."
The incident has sparked renewed calls for a dedicated wildlife officer for the Mandurah waterways.
The DBCA spokesperson said the number of staff at its Mandurah office had grown to 14, working in conservation, reserve and wildlife management, fire management and visitor services.
The local team was supported by the department's marine and wildlife specialists.
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