When Paul Gardiner saw a dolphin stranded on a beach in the Eastern Cape, he didn’t think twice before he tried to help save it.
“I suppose instinct just kicked in. I wanted to save it,” Gardiner, CEO of beyond Africa for the Mantis Collection.
Gardiner, who grew up in South Africa, has been living in the United Kingdom for the past 17 years. He and his family had been visiting relatives in South Africa for Christmas.
He saw the dolphin on the beach when he went for a jog between Kleinemonde and the Fish River on Christmas Eve.
“I thought it was dead actually,” Gardiner said.
“You often see animals getting washed up after big storms and there was a big storm on the go at the time.”
But he suddenly saw it move.
“I thought, let me just give it a go and see,” he said.
He wanted to record his rescue attempt and positioned his phone in the sand to enable him to do so.
“I thought a happy ending would make for such a cool story, but obviously it wasn’t meant to be.”
He struggled for about 90 minutes, desperately trying to get the dolphin back out to sea.
“It would swim out and kick with its tail and I thought, well, it still has lots of power. But then it kept on circling back.”
“I gave it a good go, but eventually I just saw it was never going to go back out again and so I kind of just let nature take its toll,” he said.
It was getting dark and Gardiner, who is also MD of the Bear Grylls Survival Academy, was aware that he was alone on the beach.
“There was nobody out there so I couldn’t swim out very far because if I suddenly got into trouble… you would’ve had a film of me dying. I was very cautious of that,” he said.
Gardiner described the experience as quite emotional.
“It’s always tough to walk away from a wild animal like that, stranded on the beach.”
“I never swam with a dolphin before and there I was doing it without consciously thinking: ‘Well this is fun,’ because it wasn’t fun,” he said.
Although he never saw the dolphin’s carcass, Gardiner assumed it died.
“You could see it was on its last legs,” he explained.
The Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA) generally does not recommend that members of the public try to refloat beached animals by themselves. But Gardiner said he didn’t think he’d be able to get a marine expert out on the beach at that time of the year in such a remote part of the world.
DEA guidelines require members of the public to contact the National Sea Rescue Institute, which will dispatch the appropriate authorities to assess the animal’s condition before attempting to refloat it. Upon arrival, a team will examine the animal, see if it is fit to be returned to the ocean, decide on a more appropriate location to do so, or euthanise it if it is too ill or injured to save.