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Vets suspect dolphin had a brain infection

By Cornish Guardian  |  Posted: June 29, 2012

SAD SIGHT:  One of the dolphins which stranded near Fowey.

SAD SIGHT: One of the dolphins which stranded near Fowey.

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A RARE dolphin found dead on a Fowey beach could have had a brain infection, an initial post-mortem examination has revealed.

The Cornish Guardian reported last week that two rare striped dolphins, more common to southerly regions such as the Mediterranean, were found stranded on Thursday, June 7.

The first, a female, was found at Coombe Haven beach, then a male was found at Polridmouth beach.

The deaths sparked concern from British Divers Marine Life Rescue (BDMLR) and Cornwall Wildlife Trust's Marine Strandings Network (MSN) who feared a disease outbreak.

The two groups work together to study and protect cetaceans (marine mammals).

Tooth marks indicated the stranded pair were also attacked by bottlenose dolphins.

An initial post-mortem examination has confirmed one was a juvenile female in poor body condition, which had not eaten recently. Confirmation of the brain infection is pending the outcome of further tests.

"We have had a number of cases of striped dolphins with this brain infection so it's likely to be the case here," said Rob Deaville, on behalf of AHVLA, in Truro, which carried out the examination.

"That's what we suspected," said BDMLR vet Darryl Thorpe. "Sometimes, if a disease affects the behaviour of the animal in the sea, that may cause it to strand because it knows it can't support itself in the water.

"On rare occasions, the abnormal behaviour can attract unwanted attention from other creatures, like bottlenose dolphins."

He said these infections are not contagious and that dolphins have a large amount of parasites in many areas, including the brain. "They can usually survive with them quite happily but if they get another injury it can tip the balance."

Mr Thorpe added that the BDMLR suspects pollution of the sea with organic compounds is also affecting dolphins' immune systems.

The BDMLR was alerted to the first incident when it received a call from Fowey residents who found the animal stranded alive and attempted to put in back in the sea.

Sadly, it stranded again and died before rescuers could reach the spot.

The MSN received a call from other residents about the second stranding, about a kilometre away.

Apart from a broken beak and possible net marks, there was no indication of why it died and a post-mortem examination was not possible due to its condition.

Experts said that, for two dolphins of this species to wash up in the same area, at the same time, and yet not be in the same condition, is highly unusual.

There have been 37 striped dolphin strandings reported in Cornwall to date.

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