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PHOTOS: Striped dolphin spotted on Haida Gwaii, sparking marine investigation

Animal discovered stranded on Tlell beach, marking first recorded sighting north of Vancouver Island

Marine experts are investigating after the first-ever recorded sighting of a striped dolphin on Haida Gwaii.

Alex Rinfret was walking her dog near Tlell on Wednesday morning when she thought she saw a baby killer whale washed up on the beach, just south of the Crow’s Nest Cafe.

“The markings were quite striking,” Rinfret said of the animal, which was between six and seven feet long. “Very dark on top with a white belly.”

She had seen seals, sea lions, even sharks washed up on the beach before, but never a dolphin. And as it turned out, no one is believed to have seen that species of dolphin on Haida Gwaii before, ever.

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Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) was called to the scene and staff identified the animal as a deceased striped dolphin, not to be confused with the more common Pacific white-sided dolphin.

“It was pretty exciting,” she said. “It was a pretty interesting thing to come across and of course I’m wondering what happened to it.”

Masset-based fisheries officer Jamie Constable told the Observer there were no obvious signs of trauma on the dolphin, and it had been taken away on a stretcher Wednesday afternoon to be frozen and later analyzed by veterinary pathologist Dr. Stephen Raverty.

Constable said Raverty will perform a necropsy, looking for signs of disease or pathogens, as well as cause of death.

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Nanaimo-based marine mammal expert Dr. John Ford, who ran the cetacean research program at DFO’s Pacific Biological Station for more than 15 years, told the Observer there were no known sightings of striped dolphins in B.C. waters until last September, when a whale watching operator saw a lone striped dolphin swimming south of Victoria.

“This is a species of dolphin that tends to live in warm water,” Ford said, adding the animals generally do not swim north of California. “This is the first one north of Vancouver Island.”

Since the species tends to be social, travelling in schools of up to 200 animals, he said it is likely the single, stranded animal found by Rinfret had some health issues.

“As temperatures in the ocean are gradually increasing we may expect more sightings of exotic warm water species,” he added.

“Who knows what next will turn up on the beaches.”

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Ford reminded residents that if they find a marine animal stranded on the beach, dead or alive, they should call the DFO “Observe, Record Report line” at 1-800-465-4336.

“It’s really important,” he said.

Sometimes staff are able to save live, stranded animals and “it’s always important to try and examine fresh animals like this where one can actually determine if there’s a viral pathogen.”

“It might be possible to learn from it.”

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