Dolphin discovered on Lime Kiln waterfront; cause of death undetermined

The body of this Pacific white-sided dolphin was found on the rocks Wednesday, March 26, at San Juan Islands Lime Kiln State Park; cause of death has yet to be determined.  - Contributed photo/SJC Stranding Network
The body of this Pacific white-sided dolphin was found on the rocks Wednesday, March 26, at San Juan Islands Lime Kiln State Park; cause of death has yet to be determined.
— image credit: Contributed photo/SJC Stranding Network

The waters off the west side of San Juan Island can be full of surprises.

But dolphins?

Well, as it turns out, the sleek and high-spirited cetaceans might be more common in the San Juans than you'd think.

In fact, Jen Olson of the San Juan County Marine Mammal Stranding Network said a sizable group of Pacific white-sided dolphins were spotted in the waters of Haro Strait and in Spieden Channel March 18 and March 19, and then again on Thursday, March 27. And, about 200 or so of the creatures raised a large ruckus as they skated through the long calm channel of Orcas Island's East Sound in November 2012.

"Large pods of them do come here every now and then," Olson said. "And they do tend to travel in groups."

The presence of Pacific white-sides in local waters, even if sporadic, may account for the body of one discovered on the rocks of Lime Kiln State Park, Wednesday, March 26, near the lighthouse. About six feet long, the dolphin had a large gash near its dorsal fin but the cause of death has yet to be determined.

"It's a pretty big wound," Olson said. "But we don't know yet if it happened before or after it died."

Though perhaps not as well known as their bottlenose cousins (think Flipper), Pacific white-sided dolphins are abundant in the cool, temperate waters of the Pacific, ranging along the North American continent from the Bering Sea to the Baja Peninsula. They typically travel in large, tight-knit groups, totaling about 90 animals, on average, and prey mostly on anchovies, herring, hake, squid, salmon and cod. They can grow up to eight feet in length and live up to 40 years or more.

Although rare, the appearance a white-sided dolphin is not quite as exotic as that of the massive sixgill shark that washed up on a beach on San Juan Island's Griffin Bay in the summer of 2013.

Olson said the white-sided carcass was first found by a couple visiting the park, who then alerted the Whale Museum, home of the Stranding Network, about its location. The body was recovered later that day by a Stranding Network team and then placed in a freezer to preserve it for a future necropsy, results of which will likely reveal the cause of death.

Olson said the necropsy, the word for autopsy-like procedures for marine mammals, would be performed by SeaDoc Society's Dr. Joe Gaydos, who is expected to return to the islands from a trip abroad April 2.

Barring some unforeseen complication, Olson believes the white-sided is a good candidate for a Whale Museum exhibit, one in which its skeleton would be displayed alongside that of a harbor seal or other porpoise to highlight the creatures similarities and differences.


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