Last week another 14 Common Dolphins stranded themselves along the woody cape region in Algoa Bay. This location shares topographical features in common with other places in the world that mass strandings like this occur on. The woody cape has a slight headland, and gently sloping sand at the bottom. Common Dolphins stranded on this section around the same time last year. Now despite its name, the Common dolphin isn’t a frequent visitor of our bay. There are two theories currently as to why the common dolphins have stranded themselves along the woody cape area. Firstly, this offshore species is unfamiliar to the surf zone. An individual may have been playing or chasing prey species on shore, when they may have come too close to the beach, and got caught up in the waves. We know that dolphins have strong social bonds; the stranded individual possibly called for assistance when the individuals that came to help similarly got disoriented and were stranded as well. This time of the year is Sardine Run, the largest migration of a species in the world. Naturally many predators, including the common dolphins, follow this sardine migration up the coast of South Africa into Algoa Bay. Lastly, Dr Greg Hofmeyer will be conducting post mortems to identify whether there have been any anthropogenic pressures on these common dolphins to beach themselves.
This stranding, although upsetting, is a natural event. If it were a different location we could more easily prevent the death of the dolphins that were stranded. However, the woody cape is an isolated location, with no cellphone reception, and 31km from the nearest road. Bayworld researchers, SANParks, Raggy Charters, and Marine Hope Conservancy assist with a monthly survey along this beach in the Addo Elephant National Park. 4 of the 14 common dolphins were found still alive by the NMU Zoology students, the dolphins were placed in an upright position, and grooves were dug in the sand for their pectoral fins. The dolphins were kept wet with a towel and stabilized while waiting for the authorities to arrive. The common dolphins were then assisted into deeper water.
Over the next couple months, Marine Hope Conservancy volunteers will be learning how to manuver drones with Caelum Technologies Drone Solutions, and will be conducting several surveys with the use of drones along this stretch of beach, in hopes to prevent any further stranding deaths.