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Rescuing the entangled baby of “Ariels Calf” a dolphin we have known for over a decade, helps to remind us of why we do what we do. And also how our research, education and environmental programs work together.

Usually calls to rescue end in frustration and tears – this time in 2013 we were lucky and we watched Ariel’s Calf swim off into the sunset with Tangles (as we have called the calf).

When we first saw the dolphins we knew they were in trouble.  And realising that it was “Ariels Calf” with her new calf made it worse.  It was just like seeing the family pet hit by a car.

We have known Ariels Calf since 2002 when she survived a boat strike and still bears the scars on the left side of her dorsal fin and body. This is probably her second calf. They are part of Port Phillip’s resident community of bottlenose dolphins.

She seemed to be supporting her calf which had over five metres of tangled line dragging from its tail. We could see the white wound where the line had cut deeply into its flesh.

We found them about one kilometre off Seaford with less than an hour of daylight remaining.

The calf was breathing rapidly and seemed exhausted, although it managed to stay out of reach when we approached. The line was trailing quite deeply in the water and was also out of our reach.

Some lateral thinking in the failing light, led us to try using our anchor and chain trailing beneath our bow to snag the line —- and it worked!

Sue Mason, DRI’s Research Officer, was able to pass me the line and we slowly brought the calf alongside. We knew that we could cut the line at any time if the little dolphin panicked.

Eventually I was able to get both hands on its tail and gently raise it for Sue to cut, unwind and tug the line free. Some of the wounds had begun to heal over the line, indicating it was entangled for quite a while and making the task harder.   We think that it was shark fishing line.

What seemed like an eternity was probably less than a minute and we were able to release the calf back to mum, who had remained alongside the whole time.

It was remarkable to witness how quickly they settled down into a more normal swimming behaviour — and then they swam off into the sunset!

It was hard to imagine that only moments before we had been struggling to save the little calf, which we have since named “Tangles”, and are confident it will heal well.

Jeff Weir,

Director, DRI May, 2013

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