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March 22, 2006

Day of the Dolphin

Last Sunday the kids and I and some friends spent the afternoon at Point Dume State Park in Malibu. As the kids dashed around at the ocean's edge, we noticed a dolphin swimming along amid the waves. The dolphin cruised along parallel to the beach for a few seconds. Then it made a 90 degree turn and headed directly for shore.

It kept coming and *kept coming* and KEPT COMING, right through the waves, all the way onto the beach. Where it began to thrash, flop, roll about, quiver, and where -- less than five minutes later -- it died.

photo of recently died dolphin at Point Dume park in Malibu

I missed the animal's final moments, having run up the beach to the nearest lifeguard station once it was apparent that we were dealing with one *very* sick creature. I called a local marine mammal rescue group, and they got there within 15 minutes or so, but I think they could have shown up in 15 seconds and it would have made no difference whatsoever.

This is perhaps one of the oddest, most surrealistic events that any of us there have ever experienced. It's not every day that a large alien creature appears out of nowhere, silently heads directly for you, and then dies at your feet. I'm not quite sure what to make of it symbolically, or how to feel about it.

The marine rescue folks say it was a long beaked common dolphin (Delphinus capensis). They're found along the California and Baja coasts, as well as off the east coast of South America, near the south African cape, and a number of other places. Here in California they're a little uncommon but not really rare, with about 30,000 of them between Baja and Canada.

This one almost certainly died by eating sardines or other small fish laced with domoic acid... a toxin produced by algal blooms off the California coast.

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Posted by Chris Spurgeon at March 22, 2006 12:56 AM

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