Yesterday, I made a wonderful but sad discovery as I walked along the pebbles at Chesil Cove. At first, I could not take in what I was looking at because it looked, somehow, so artificial – like a large model or toy. This exquisite creature was a new-born (neonatal) Risso’s Dolphin (Grampus griseus). [Thank you to Dan Worth of Razorbill RIB Charter and Rod Penrose of the  Marine Mammal Strandings programme (Welsh Coast) for confirmation of the identity].

The stranded body of this small dolphin was about 1.3 metres long. It looked unlike any dolphin I had ever seen before and was clearly not a Common or Bottle-nose Dolphin as it had no ‘beaked’ snout. The odd shape of the head is characteristic of this species as also with the dorsal fin, pectoral fins and the tail flukes.

Flung ashore by huge waves, it was virtually unmarked but for a few grazes and scratches on head and under-belly. The smooth, cold, rubbery skin shaded from almost black, through grey and tan to near white; unblemished and scarless with just a few fine lines and creases where the fins articulated with the body and in the places most stretched – like the jaw line. Apparently the broader barely perceptible marks along its sides are foetal folds and the chief indicator that it had recently been born. In mature Risso’s Dolphins the skin is criss-crossed by multiple scarrings which make the skin look pale.

I alerted colleagues on the Strandlines and Beachcombing  page of Facebook last night. This morning Steve Trewhella, a Dorset Marine Biologist, went to Chesil Cove and was able to recover the body which will now be sent for post-mortem. The Natural History Museum have been notified as stranded sea mammals must be recorded. If you find any beach stranded sea mammal such as a whale, dolphin, or porpoise (Cetacea), you can find out who to contact by clicking here for the details on the British Marine Life Study Society site which is run by Andy Horton.

Click here for more information about Risso’s Dolphins.


© Jessica Winder and Jessica’s Nature Blog, 2010. Unauthorised use and/or duplication of this material, including both text and photographs, without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Jessica Winder and Jessica’s Nature Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

 Photographs in this blog are copyright property of Jessica Winder with all rights reserved

29 Replies to “Risso’s Dolphin at Chesil Cove”

  1. What a sad find indeed 😦 You’re right, it doesn’t look real, but I guess that’s no surprise considering it’s out of its element.

    Jessica, I love what you’ve done to the place 🙂 (Haven’t visited in awhile due to working long hours). Your new banner looks great.


  2. I think the unreal thing was also the perfection of it. Usually animals on the strandline are badly damaged and decomposing. This one was so fresh and intact, with its virtually perfect smooth rubbery skin, that it had probably only recently died and had just been cast ashore by the previous high wave.

    Glad you like the new look of the home page.


  3. I too like your new look. (Fingers crossed we may not have too much delay now before we progress our move!)


  4. Hello, Lynn. Very sad indeed. Although we are waiting for the results of the post mortem on the dolphin, it seems possible that this baby Risso may have simply drowned after birth. There were enormous swells at sea prior to finding the dolphin, and huge rafts of kelp that had been ripped from its beds. It is easy to visualize a situation that would have been very challenging to a newborn dolphin and its mother.


  5. What a sad but beautiful discovery. I didn;t know anything about this species. We get harbour porpoises along this bit of coast, which is exciting if you see one but that’s as close as I have ever got.
    I did find a young seal a few years back who we had to get the RSPCA out to help, but not before he nearly climbed into my lap!


  6. I don’t know much about sea mammals and was puzzled by the appearance of this ‘beakless’ dolphin. I even thought at first it might be a baby whale. However, from a quick search in the literature I discovered the Risso’s Dolphin – which was new to me but not uncommon in our waters.

    It must have been a special moment when you rescued the baby seal.


  7. In some ways it was a truly powerful turning point in my life. We’d moved to our current location in the October, out of neccesity for my husband to keep his integrity(which is important to us all but as a priest, ignoring it was not an option ) and the move to a smaller home and a place I knew no one was traumatic indeed. I was plunged into severe depression and hopelessness. We found the seal the day before New Year’s Eve, and whether the touching of another living creature made the difference, or the synchronicity and symbolism of the event, somehow I found I regained my sense of hope and purpose in life. Since then I have come to understand that there is not such thing as blind chance and that even the harder things happen for reasons, even though we often cannot and will not see them at the time. The move, though painful, has opened up a vast sea of experiences for me that I would never have had the chance for had we continued in our previous life.


  8. It sounds like your contact with the seal at such a difficult time in your life was very significant for you. Closer contact with the natural world around us can be that kind of experience that enhances lives, puts things into perspective, and might be called spiritual.


  9. It does look like it’s not even real! Almost plastic… How very sad. I am glad you came upon it, though, and could share views of it with so many who might never have seen this.


  10. I am so happy that the team was able to recover this little one for a post. This young life will live on in the details that they are able to gather from it.



  11. Hello Jessica, what a sad find indeed but thank you for sharing it with us. I haven’t visited in a little while due to some hectic times at work but I’m glad to catch up and look forward to looking back through your recent postings. Best wishes, Linda


  12. I don’t have anything to add to what has already been said but wanted you to know I looked at all these pictures and felt a commonality with this strange creature whose existence I hadn’t even known of before your post. Thank you, Jessica.


  13. That’s OK, Linda. Hope things ease up for you workwise soon. I have been very busy myself and haven’t been doing daily updates to the blog for a while. I am creating lots of new images for my Jessica Winder Fine Art website ( and I’m out seeking new artistic inspiration on Gower seashores right now.


  14. Thanks, Lucy. I was out of the country when the article was published in the Echo and you sent your message. So, sorry for the delay in responding. I have just popped across to look at your blog – you have some fantastic photographs, Lucy. I’ll look again later when I have recovered from the jet-lag.
    Best wishes


  15. The waves that washed this dolphin ashore broke on the beach in 2010. The size and the faint fold-lines across the body indicated that it was neo-natal from where it had been folded up inside the mother before birth.

    Liked by 1 person

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