Rescue workers freed an Indo-Pacific humpback dolphin from a small lagoon where the Asian tsunami had dumped it — returning it to the Andaman Sea in a rare story of survival 10 days after the massive waves crushed posh tourist resorts in the surrounding Khao Lak area.
“She’s out!” Edwin Wiek, a Dutchman who is director of the Wildlife Friends of Thailand Rescue Centre, said jubilantly. “I think she’s going to survive.”
The dolphin, spotted on Monday about a kilometre from the beach by a man searching for his missing wife, had become a symbol of hope amid the death and destruction.
But efforts to free it on Monday and Tuesday failed, first because the nets were too small, then because trees and other debris on the bottom of the lagoon apparently tore holes in the nets and allowed the dolphin to slip out.
The fate of a second, smaller dolphin — believed to be the larger one’s calf — is unclear. It was not seen during the rescue, and Wiek said a couple of wildlife workers will maintain a vigil. If it is spotted, a rescue attempt will be mounted on Friday.
Officials had planned to wait until Saturday to make another dolphin rescue attempt, but local fishermen and soldiers showed up on Wednesday afternoon with a double net.
As about 150 people watched, soldiers lined the length of the nets, splashing to herd the dolphin into a corner of the lagoon. It managed to jump the first net, but then was trapped between the two nets.
“She seemed to be pretty exhausted at the end, so she actually drove herself into the net,” Wiek said.
The soldiers put the pink-and-gray dolphin on a stretcher and pulled it up the muddy bank and into a pick-up truck, where it was laid on an air mattress and driven to the sea.
Wiek said the dolphin, which originally was spotted with a shallow wound on her back, suffered some small injuries from the net, so it received an injection of antibiotics, also smeared on the wounds.
The net had caught its fins awkwardly, and the mammal, estimated at 13 to 15 years old, appeared to be crying, he added.
The rescuers then carried the dolphin from the truck, walked out into the water and released it.
“She went off like a rocket,” Wiek said.
Local fishermen also managed to trap and free a dugong — a type of sea mammal — on Tuesday that had been trapped in a lagoon near a navy base in Phang Nga province.
About 500 to 600 Indo-Pacific humpback dolphins are believed to inhabit the seas around Thailand, migrating between the Indian and Pacific oceans
Image: Chaiwat Subprasom / Reuters