Cape Town - A pod of dolphins “mourned” the death of a teenager who drowned near Llandudno Beach after she slipped off a rock and was swept away.
After an extensive search, the body of the 15-year-old girl, who was visiting the area, was found surrounded by the dolphins.
Simon Elwen, marine mammal specialist and Sea Search founding director and research associate at Stellenbosch University, explained: “They do clearly have a sense of death and loss. It is possible that the dolphins recognised that situation in the girl being at sea.
“Dolphins have been shown to display mourning behaviour for their own calves and what they do is carry the calf around for a few days, so it is possible that they were recognising the death and the unusual situation of this.”
The drowning of the teenager has rocked the Llandudno community after the girl’s body was found floating on the surface of the water in Llandudno, accompanied by the pod of dolphins on Saturday after an extensive search operation by the National Sea Rescue Institute (NSRI).
The search operation was launched after a call to the City’s 107 emergency centre was received at approximately 6pm on Friday to alert the relevant authorities that the teen had gone missing at Logies Bay, the bay adjacent to Llandudno Beach, which is known for its rough currents.
NSRI spokesperson Craig Lambinon said it appeared that while a group of friends were together at Llandudno, the teenager may have slipped off rocks before being swept away by rip currents.
The search operation included City Lifesaving lifeguards, NSRI rescue swimmers, the police, Law Enforcement officers, Cape Town Fire and Rescue Services, Community Medics, Hout Bay Community Crime Prevention officers, Life Healthcare response paramedics, Community Cohesion Services, ADT officers and PPA Security officers as well as the Western Cape Government Health EMS Rescue Squad and their EMS Rescue Drone Unit.
Lifeguards and rescue swimmers employed sweeping line free dive search efforts, and the police dive unit assisted in free dive search efforts, but there was no sign of the missing teenager until Saturday.
“During the extensive sea and shoreline search that included police scuba dive search efforts and EMS rescue drone search efforts, an NSRI rescue craft patrolling deep sea about a kilometre offshore, reported in VHF marine radio communication that 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.
Police divers recovered the body of the teenager from the water and she was brought to the NSRI Hout Bay rescue station aboard a rescue craft.
Thereafter she was taken into the care of police and Government Health Forensic Pathology Services.
Lambinon said her family and friends were briefed and appealed for privacy.
Police spokesperson Wesley Twigg confirmed that the body of the girl was recovered.
“A post-mortem will be conducted to determine the cause of death,” Twigg said.
Llandudno Special Rating Area chairperson Kiki Loubser said: “The community is upset and heartbroken about the loss of the teenage girl’s life.
“The outpouring on our community group chats has been overwhelming with support and wishes of strength for the family. As a community we are deeply saddened and express our condolences to the family for their tragic and untimely loss.”
Llandudno Lifesaving Club chairperson Wayne Grieveson said: “Our off-duty lifesavers responded with incredible bravery in some very testing conditions, but unfortunately were unable to locate the young girl.
“As far as we know she slipped, the water was around 10°C, and there was a fairly large swell running. We appeal to all members of the public to avoid dangerous areas where lifeguards are not on duty or patrolling.”
Grieveson said it was not unusual for dolphins to be in the sea around Llandudno and many surfers, sailors and water people had stories to tell about dolphins caring for and protecting them at sea.
He added: “Summer is almost here, and as crowds on the beaches start to increase it’s imperative that the public always swim at beaches that are protected and patrolled by lifeguards.”
“Our sincerest condolences to all the family and friends of the young girl who lost her life, it was a tragic accident and we are so deeply sorry for your loss.”