Rescue crews who tried unsuccessfully over the weekend to guide a confused dolphin from the shallow waters of Orange County's Bolsa Chica wetlands decided Monday to hang back and allow the dolphin to return to the open sea at its own pace.
On Friday, human spectators scared the dolphin into staying in the wetlands, wildlife officials said. And on Saturday, another group of dolphins chased the stranded marine animal back into the wetlands as rescuers attempted to guide it back to the open sea.
Because the dolphin is not in immediate danger and there is plenty of food and water available in the wetlands, rescuers believe letting it decide when to leave is the best strategy, said Peter Wallerstein of Marine Animal Rescue.
"We're being very cautious about forcing it into harm's way," he said.
Wallerstein and five state Department of Fish and Game officers took to paddle boards Saturday morning to encourage the 7-foot dolphin to continue swimming to freedom after they noticed that it had swum several hundred yards closer to Huntington Harbour, which spills into the ocean.
The six paddleboarders managed to shoo the dolphin a few hundred yards closer to the harbor when the animal noticed another group of dolphins swimming in circles ahead of it.
Apparently frightened, the wayward dolphin turned around and dived deep into the harbor, swimming beneath the paddle-boarders and a bridge and back into the wetlands.
"There could be tension among the dolphin pod and dolphins can be very aggressive, even among themselves," he said.
Wallerstein also urged spectators to keep away from the dolphin so it does not become distracted or confused by people along the shoreline.
The dolphin is believed to be one of six that swam into the wetlands early last week. The other dolphins are believed to have returned to sea Thursday.
(c)2012 the Los Angeles Times
Distributed by MCT Information Services via Associated Press