A lifeguard floats next to a wayward dolphin in the Bolsa Chica wetlands… (Mark Boster / Los Angeles…)
On Friday, human spectators scared a confused dolphin into staying in the shallow waters of Orange County's Bolsa Chica Wetlands, wildlife officials said.
On Saturday, it was a group of dolphins that frightened the stranded marine animal back into the wetlands nature preserve as rescuers attempted to guide it back to the open sea.
"It's been an interesting day so far," said Peter Wallerstein, a marine biologist with the Marine Animal Rescue service.
Wallerstein and five state Department of Fish and Game officers took to paddle boards Saturday morning to encourage the 7-foot dolphin to continue swimming to freedom after they noticed that it had swum several hundred yards closer to Huntington Harbour, which spills into the ocean.
The six paddle-boarders managed to shoo the dolphin a few hundred yards farther and into the harbor when the animal noticed another group of dolphins swimming in circles ahead of it.
Apparently frightened, the wayward dolphin turned around and dived deep into the harbor, swimming beneath the paddle-boarders and a bridge and back into the wetlands.
By noontime Wallerstein and the state officers had decided "to stand down for now," as the marine biologist put it.
"After 27 years I know not to celebrate prematurely," said Wallerstein, who acknowledged that he was surprised that the stranded dolphin seemed frightened of the other dolphins. "We're assuming they're from his pod," the group of dolphins he originally swam into the wetlands with while chasing a school of fish to eat, he said. After entering the wetlands, the other dolphins turned around and retraced their route out of the Bolsa Chica lagoon.
Wallenstein said the stranded dolphin still seemed to be strong and healthy and capable of escaping the lagoon on his own. "He proved he can get out if he wants to. There are no red flags. I'm not concerned," he said.
Still, he urged spectators to stay away from the dolphin so it does not become distracted or confused by people in the water or along the shoreline.
El Segundo-based Marine Animal Rescue has come to the assistance of 92 marine animals so far this year, he said. Most of those rescues have involved seals and sea lions.