My day of kayaking started off like any other….absolutely fantastic. Cunning scrutiny of the weather forecast led me to the picture-perfect Percuil creek near St.Mawes, where, as I had planned, the wind fell light and the sun came out just as I arrived at 8am.(more like sheer luck, in reality)
Slicing across a sheet of glass-smooth water in absolute silence in this sort of place is kayaking at its best. Nothing to hear but the piping of Oystercatchers, Green- and Redshanks, the kraark of Herons, the whistle of a speeding Kingfisher and cackling chatter of Shelduck. Even the seven-note call of an unseasonal Whimbrel.
This Greenshank seemed to be as thrilled as I was with a bit of December sun.
Paddling back down the creek towards St.Mawes was directly into the sun but very scenic in a monochrome sort of a way.
Just before I came round the final bend in the river I heard a snort and saw a disturbance on the smooth surface. I assumed it was a seal but to my incredulity a couple of dolphins surfaced. In over 21,000 miles of paddling I have never seen dolphins this far up a creek.
I sat tight in an effort not to disturb them, and watched.
I was even more surprised to see the yellow patch on the side which showed that these were Common Dolphins, and not Bottlenose as I had initially thought. Bottlenose Dolphins are at home in shallow water as they sometimes like to eat shellfish and crabs, whereas Common Dolphins are creatures of the open sea, and probably not wired-up for navigation along a narrow creek which was rapidly getting narrower as the tide went out.
However they seemed to be quite happy and swimming strongly, although when |I left them they were heading upstream which was not a good plan.
To make my trip complete I intended to paddle out around Black Rock in the middle of Carrick Roads where it opens up into the sea, and although there was quite a swell running, and the tide was going out, the wind remained light and the sun was still out so the sea looked pretty benign.
Of course I was hoping to see some ‘open sea’ wildlife, and was rewarded with a couple of Loons out near Black Rock.
I looped around Black Rock and let the current suck me out towards the lighthouse at St.Anthony Head before heading back up the shoreline.
All the time I was looking out for the pair of dolphins, hoping that they were making their way back out to open waters. I stopped for lunch overlooking Falmouth as a Merlin helicopter was being very noisy:
I wound my way back up the Percuil river between all the mooring buoys, and as I passed the entrance to Porth creek saw the fins of the dolphins zigzagging about like a couple of sharks. Not a good idea to be in such a shallow creek as low water was approaching. This is the domain of egrets, not dolphins.
I watched them from a safe distance for a good half-an-hour, and then things started to go wrong.
They moved close to the northern bank of the creek and the smaller dolphin halted, apparently grounded on a mud bank, but still submerged apart from fin and blowhole. The larger dolphin swam a hundred yards further up the creek and deliberately started to beach itself on the mud.
I paddled towards the scene as I saw members of the British Divers Marine Life Rescue (BDMLR) (who had obviously been tipped off by an astute observer and had been watching from the shore), moving down to the water’s edge to help.
One heroic medic waded into the muddy water to try to divert the dolphin back into the channel:
This was temporarily successful but the dolphin swam round in a big loop and started to run aground again. I offered my assistance and attempted to steer the dolphin away from the shallow water.
Unfortunately my efforts too were only briefly successful and the dolphin ran itself aground.
This initiated a full rescue operation by the four BDMLR volunteers present, and for the next three plus hours they worked tirelessly to maintain the dolphins during the critical time they were out of the water.
Under the instruction of BDMLR vet Natalie, the dolphins were covered in sheets and/or seaweed and had seawater poured over them constantly to stop their skin from drying out. Natalie assessed their health and decided to move the dolphins together. Definitely a good idea but moving 100kg of struggling dolphin about on a plastic sheet over slippery seaweed is not a straightforward procedure. Fortunately another two BDMLR members arrived to ease the lumbago.
The initial plan was to put the dolphins onto a boat and take them a couple of miles out into the deeper water of Carrick Roads although failing light would have made this very challenging, so it was relief all round when the incoming tide came to the rescue and refloated the dolphins.
Unfortunately I had departed at this stage because it was nearly dark, but I hear that both dolphins were seen swimming strongly out into deeper water and hopefully made it safely back into their more familiar oceanic environment.
Their is a lot of mystery surrounding cetacean strandings but it seems likely that these pair had made a navigational error. Common Dolphins spend most of their time well offshore and range widely , and these may have ventured into the (exceptionally) deep water of the outer part of Carrick Roads, and accidentally headed into the mouth of the Percuil River when they meant to head east in the open sea. Maybe they were lured in by the easy feast of lots of Grey Mullet which I saw as I was paddling and which they seemed to be chasing.
And once into the very shallow water of Porth Creek it would be very easy to become disorientated and confused, especially with a dropping tide……but who knows???
Whatever, today was a triumph for the BDMLR volunteers. They responded quickly enough to be on hand when the dolphins beached and had all the expertise, experience and equipment (and muscle power) to deal with the situation and care for the dolphins and get them back into deep water. Good job!