Dolphin Pod Assists Rescue Team in Recovering Body of Teen

by Taylor Cunningham
(Photo by Joe Raedle/Newsmakers)

The long search for the body of a South African teen finally came to an end this weekend after authorities found her surrounded by a “mourning” pod of dolphins.

The 15-year-old girl allegedly slipped off rocks along the Llandudno beach in Cape town on Friday, Oct. 28, and a rip tide washed her out to sea.

The girl was with a group of friends who called the City of Cape Town’s 107 Emergency Centre. The National Sea Rescue Institute (NSRI) arrived on the scene with police officers, private security, and several other emergency services. And NSRI led a thorough rescue search.

“On arrival at the scene, a sea and shoreline search commenced, including lifeguards and NSRI rescue swimmers conducting sweeping line free dive search efforts,” said spokesperson Craig Lambinon.

Unfortunately, the teenager was not found that night. So by the following morning, the rescue turned into a recovery effort.

The Western Cape EMS rescue squad and a drone unit headed out early Saturday morning. NSRI and Law Enforcement Marine Unit and Llandudno lifeguards also continued the search.

The Pod of Dolphins Was Likely ‘Mourning’ the Dead Teen, According to a Specialist

In an update after that day, officials announced that they had found the teen about a half mile off the shore. An NSRI rescue craft team found her while patrolling the deep sea.

“The body of the teenager was located floating on the water surface accompanied by a pod of dolphins near to the rescue craft,” Lambinon said.

“NSRI, police, and community cohesion services have spent significant time with family and friends and condolences are conveyed by all emergency services involved,” he added.

Police and the government’s health and forensic pathology service took the girl into their care. And they will conduct an official investigation.

According to marine mammal specialist and Sea Seach founding director Simon Elwen, the dolphins were likely surrounding the girl because they understood the gravity of the situation. And they were showing empathy. Elwen, who works as a research associate at Stellenbosch University said the behavior isn’t uncommon.

“They do clearly have a sense of death and loss,” he told Cape Argus. “It is possible that the dolphins recognized that situation in the girl being at sea.”

“Dolphins have been shown to display mourning behavior for their own calves. And what they do is carry the calf around for a few days,” he continued. “So it is possible that they were recognizing the death and the unusual situation of this.”