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Dolphin that swam into wetlands will be left to find its own way back to sea

This news story was published on April 27, 2012.
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By Michael Miller, Nicole Santa Cruz and Esmeralda Bermudez, Los Angeles Times –

LOS ANGELES — A wayward dolphin that accidentally swam into the Bolsa Chica wetlands off the coast of Orange County will — for now — be left to find its own way back to sea after rescuers concluded that the 7-foot mammal was strong and healthy and that attempts to save it could be harmful to its health.

California Department of Fish and Game officials said rescuers may wade back into the waters of the marine reserve when high tide arrives late Friday afternoon and attempt to lure the dolphin toward the ocean.

“Trapping an animal even under perfect circumstances causes stress,” said Paul Hamdorf of Fish and Game. He said the dolphin seemed to be doing fine — and was only lost, not sick.

The dolphin was apparently one of six that swam into the wetlands earlier in the week, but it wasn’t spotted until Friday — seemingly bewildered about how to find its way back out. It is believed that the other dolphins returned to sea Thursday.

“They were probably chasing fish through the Huntington Harbour and lost their way,” said Dean Gomersall, animal care supervisor with the Pacific Marine Mammal Center in Laguna Beach.

As the rescue operation unfolded Friday, more than 50 spectators lined the shores of the wetlands in Huntington Beach as news helicopters circled overhead.

At one point, traffic on Pacific Coast Highway slowed to a crawl as people craned to get a look and motorists angled their cars along the shoulder — that is until police arrived and began issuing citations.

The dolphin occasionally surfaced in the north part the wetlands as people stood by taking pictures on smartphones or after setting up tripods.

Lori Graham, who lives nearby, said she came over to the bay with her daughter and sister when she heard a helicopter overhead.

“I’ve seen seals but never a dolphin here,” she said.

Resident Heather Swett was on her daily jog near the wetlands when she saw the crowd gathered around. She called herself a dolphin lover.

“I feel bad,” she said, standing on a bridge over the water. “I want to help somehow.”

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