Tears for little friend Salty
By SALLY GORDON
WHEN Yamba newcomer Karen Hulett was a little girl she regularly fantasised about befriending a wild dolphin.
Last Thursday afternoon Karen's dream came true when a baby dolphin, alone and distressed, approached her, her 11-year-old son Suncha and a friend while they were surfing in front of the Sandon camping area in Yuraygir National Park.
Sadly though, Karen's dream was shattered when she was informed the following day, the juvenile bottlenose dolphin she had nursed to safety, had died Friday morning at Sea World on the Gold Coast.
From her Yamba home yesterday, a teary Karen relived the encounter and said her dream always was going to be one that would go as suddenly as it came.
"Suncha and I were out surfing with another friend and the next thing the little dolphin popped up next to Suncha," she said.
"It came right close to him straight away ... Suncha reached out and was touching it and then it swam right into my chest, right into my heart.
"It carried on swimming with us and bumping into us."
Karen, who has named the stray dolphin Salty after the family's Salt Rock Resort in South Africa, said she was extremely concerned about the welfare of the animal as she knew it was abnormal for a mother to abandon its calf.
With no obvious signs of injury, Karen supported the dolphin in the surf for about half-an-hour before carrying the animal to the calmer waters of the Sandon River.
While doing so, she asked if one of the onlookers standing on the beach would call for help.
"I tried to get it to the estuary as quickly as possible because I thought it might be the best thing to get it to relax ... we were trying to protect it from the sun and keep it moist and calm," she said.
But, already, Karen said the baby dolphin had begun showing signs of weakness and spasming with dehydration.
A few hours later veterinary staff from Grafton arrived to take the mammal by vehicle to Sea World.
But despite the efforts of local surfers, the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) and veterinary staff from Grafton and Sea World, the dolphin did not survive.
"I heard it died the next morning, which was very, very sad, because I really felt hopeful," a distraught Karen said.
NPWS Clarence area ranger Matt Clarke said the one-metre long dolphin was believed to have been the same dolphin that was found south of Brooms Head the previous night and returned to the ocean by well-meaning fishermen.
He said it was likely the animal became separated from its mother at birth, as no ingested milk was found during an autopsy undertaken by Sea World on Friday.
"The NPWS appreciates the efforts of the locals in helping to save the animal and encourages everyone to contact the NPWS as quickly as possible when marine mammals become stranded," he said.