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Dolphin Rescue

Lucky strike
Dolphins rescued from certain death on Santo Antão. Written by Annette Rieck and told by Bernd Helle.

Tarrafal de Monte Trigo, Island of Santo Antão.

On 31st of July, around 9:30am, I was just about to go down into the village, when Chitch, a young fisherman, came running into the “Mar Tranquilidade”, the cosy little hotel where I live. “Some dolphins have been stranded on the rocks!” he exclaimed breathlessly, “and they cannot get into open water again.”

I looked at the bay with its glimmering black sand and calm turquoise ocean. At this time of the day the sun was already very hot, heating up the sand and the air to uncomfortable temperatures for bare feet – or the bare, extremely vulnerable skin of sea mammals.

On the beach I saw two fishermen, Kata and Almeida, sitting in the shade of one of the coloured wooden fishing boats heatedly discussing some obviously important topics, probably football!


While Chitch asked them to come with us, I fetched my cap, a bucket and my camera, and off we went. We headed towards the many small rock pools to the left of the sandy part of the beach, one kilometre away.

When we reached the bay, we saw one calf and two adult dolphins trapped in one of the rock pools, bleeding from several wounds and cuts which were caused by the sharp volcanic rock. Unfortunately two of the three were already dead, only one of the adult dolphins was still alive.

We poured some fresh water over its dry, hot skin, and then started to move the heavy body into the deepest part of the pool, where the water was at least thirty centimetres deep. The dolphin weighed around a ton, so was very heavy. Not an easy task, especially if you consider that the ground was covered with sea urchins, and we were all barefoot! And the more difficult task was still to come, to carry the dolphin over the rocky barrier that separated the rock pool from the open sea.


How we finally managed, I have no idea. We were four men with a three metre long dolphin weighing a ton with slippery skin which was trying to escape from us. In addition, we were in the middle of these pools made of sharp volcanic rock full of sea urchins – not the easiest of tasks. But we succeeded. It took us a quarter of an hour, and when we watched the dolphin swim away, we were laughing with relief and joy.

Another task was yet to be done, we had to bury the two dead dolphins in the sea to prevent them rotting ashore. I was just on the way back to fetch a boat and some rope and was not even 50 metres away, when I heard Kata shouting. In another pool a bit further away there were more! Twelve in total, hurt and dry as well, and already some of them were dead. While my companions took care of the hurt animals, I went back to the fisherman’s place. With four new helpers, Manuel, Gonçalves, Ildo and Jeremia, a boat and some ropes I returned.

When we got back, Kata, Almeida and Chitch had already moved two of the dolphins back into the sea, as luckily the access to open water was easier here. Out of the twelve dolphins, eight were still alive, and now as there were eight people to handle the big and heavy mammals, we managed to move them all back into the sea by around 2pm.

But there was a problem, some of the animals came back to the shore two or three times, and we had to take them away from the rocky trap not just once, but several times.

Ultimately, we were able to rescue nine of the fifteen dolphins, but sadly for six of them, help came too late. These we could only bury in the ocean, the corpses tied together and carried to the ocean floor by two heavy stones. We watched as they sank into the deep blue water, feeling very sorry that we had been unable to save their lives. But we were more than happy with what we had managed to do, nine of the dolphins were rescued, and not one of us was hurt by the needles of the sea urchins – a small miracle, and a real lucky strike.