A striped dolphin rarely spotted north of California was discovered on a Haida Gwaii beach by a woman walking her dog last week, more than 1,000 km north of its normal range.
“This particular animal of that species that stranded in Haida Gwaii is the northernmost record I’m aware of,” said John Ford, a UBC zoologist and emeritus whale research scientist with the Pacific Biological Station of Fisheries and Oceans Canada..
“It wandered into unfamiliar territory,” he said.
Veterinarians are now doing a necropsy at the B.C. Animal Health Centre to determine how it died.
The striped dolphin is primarily a warm water species, and Ford said the colder waters off B.C.’s north coast may have contributed to its death.
“The water is far colder, it adds to the thermal stress,” said Ford.
Dog walker discovered dolphin
The dolphin was discovered on a cold, windy day, as Alex Rinfret walked her golden retriever, Juno, on the beach near Tlell.
Rinfret, who lives near the beach and swims in the ocean in all seasons, said she saw something in the surf that didn’t look like a log.
“It was this absolutely beautiful animal,” said Rinfret.
Prepared to wade into the frigid ocean to push the animal back out to deeper water, Rinfret only got a few steps into the waves before realizing the creature was dead.
“I could see that it was definitely something unusual,” she said.
At first, she thought it was a baby killer whale. Then she saw its row of tiny teeth and “cute dolphin smile.”
A friend advised her to measure the animal so she could report it to fisheries officials.
By the time Rinfret returned from a trip home to get her camera and a measuring tape, the dolphin had washed up on the beach.
When her tape measure didn’t reach far enough, she lay down beside the animal to determine its length, and determined it was longer than she was.
Officials later helped identify it as a striped dolphin about 2 metres long.
The dolphin was carried off the beach on an old stretcher a friend had rustled up, said Rinfret, as neighbours talked about the rarity of the find.
‘It’s a little disturbing’
“It’s a little disturbing, when you hear about animals that usually live in warmers waters coming here,” said Rinfret.
And marine scientists like Ford agree.
“It’s quite rare still, but we have in the last decade it seems had more and more occurrences of these warm water dolphins of various species appearing in British Columbia. So I think as we get more and more of these warm water events, like the Blob or El Niño, we can expect to see more of these unusual dolphins appearing in our waters,” said Ford.
Ford says striped dolphins are not complete strangers to B.C. Since 1948, he says, there have been 16 reports of stranded, dead striped dolphins in the province, although none as far north as Haida Gwaii, until now.
But he says there has only been one single sighting of a live striped dolphin swimming in B.C. waters. That dolphin was spotted by a whale watcher off the coast of Victoria in September, 2019.