In 27 years of rescuing nearly 4,000 marine mammals in dire straits, Peter Wallerstein has never seen anything like the interaction that prompted a dolphin to make a sanctuary of the shallow Bolsa Chica wetlands in Huntington Beach.
Originally thought to be trapped, the 7-foot adult male has been circling the wetlands since Thursday, preferring the confines of the shallows over a confrontation with an aggressive pair of dolphins waiting nearby in the harbor that feeds into the wetlands, said Wallerstein.
“We were able to get it to swim into open water Saturday. It was about 100 yards into the harbor and swimming calmly when it was attacked by a couple of very aggressive dolphins,” said Wallerstein. “It was quite eye-opening to see that kind of aggression.”
The dolphin raced back into the wetlands, and the larger, aggressive dolphin that was chasing it made an abrupt maneuver to avoid following into the shallows. A small group of dolphins, previously assumed by many to be part of the "trapped" mammal’s pod, had been spotted circling in the nearby harbor throughout the weekend.
It would seem the lone dolphin has sought sanctuary, and rescue crews have put on hold any plans to bring it into open water.
"It could be a death blow to the dolphin if we force him or her out of the wetlands'' into a pod that would bully it, Wallerstein said. “Dolphins are not the cuddly characters they’re made out to be in cartoons or movies. They have a complex social structure. They are animals, and they have their dark side.”
The dolphin is not trapped; it has been feeding, and its heart rate is normal, Wallerstein added. For all these reasons, the rescue crews won’t interfere again unless the dolphin’s condition deteriorates, he said.
"There's no reason to do anything prematurely,” said Wallerstein.
The dolphin likely followed some food into the shallow, marshy area during a high tide on Thursday or Friday, when it first drew a crowd, including a diver who wanted to get a closer look and several people on paddle boards who tried to shoo the big adult back into the harbor, which connects with the ocean.
Wallerstein urged people to keep their distance. Although generally not aggressive, dolphins -- which use their speed and torpedo shape to ram enemies - can be dangerous.
- City News Service contributed to this report.