Earlier this week, what appeared to be a healthy bottlenose dolphin was found stranded on a beach (perhaps aptly named Hell’s Mouth) in Wales. Teams from the Zoological Society of London’s Cetacean Strandings Investigation Programme (CSIP) and Marine Environmental Monitoring were quickly on the scene to undertake a post-mortem to try and find out what had caused the individual to strand and die – what they found was beyond the bizarre.
Given that the dolphin appeared to be in a good nutritional state, it wasn’t surprising for the teams to find a stomach full of recently ingested fish, revealing that prior to its death, the dolphin had been feasting on some of the local fish. However what was surprising was that the stomach wasn’t the only place they found fish – an almost whole dab fish (a type of flat fish) was found lodged in the dolphin’s nasal cavity, completely blocking the airspace and therefore preventing the dolphin from breathing.
So “death by fish”, or in technical speak, “asphyxiation by dab” has been officially noted as the cause of death for this unfortunate dolphin, not something that the investigators see very often. In fact this is only the second time (in over 11,500 strandings) that a dolphin has been documented as having died of asphyxia by ingestion.
Unfortunately, this adult male dolphin has since been identified as a member of the population of resident bottlenose dolphins found in the wider Cardigan Bay. Each and every dolphin is important and none more so when they’re from small relatively discrete populations however sometimes life and death really are stranger than fiction and if it wasn’t for him eating his food the wrong way (and perhaps not having another dolphin on hand to conduct the heimlich manoeuvre) this individual may have lived for many more years.