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If you see a stranded marine mammal on the beach, don't touch it. Call the Marine Mammal Stranding Network at 800-922-5431.
Two dolphins washed ashore in Beaufort County within a week, in addition to a pygmy sperm whale and two other dolphins found along the South Carolina coast. But they were found so far apart, wildlife biologists don't think the strandings are related.
An 8-foot-long male dolphin washed up Friday night in Rose Creek on Lemon Island, said Wayne McFee of the National Ocean Service's marine mammal stranding program, and a 3-foot-long female infant dolphin washed up on the south end of Hilton Head Island.
The whale was discovered Saturday at North Litchfield Beach, south of Myrtle Beach. The two other dolphins, seen since Thursday, were found at Abbapoola Creek off the Stono River on Johns Island and in Bull's Bay off Awendaw.
The run of strandings is unusual but not yet alarming, McFee said. Strandings of both species occur year-round.
"The fact that they're spread out around the state, it could be just that good weather has put people back on the water and they're spotting them," McFee said. But program personnel are watching to see if it becomes a trend.
The dolphin found at Lemon Island will undergo a necropsy today by a marine mammal class at Coastal Carolina University in Myrtle Beach. The dolphin found on Hilton Head underwent a necropsy Tuesday, and the cause of death remains unknown.
A necropsy on the whale found a heart condition and liver trouble, and toxicology tests are under way to try to pinpoint a cause.
McFee said the dolphin at Lemon Island was moved by local residents. His office frowns on that.
"These things are heavy and can injure humans," he said. "They can also carry diseases that humans can catch. You have to have a permit to handle a marine mammal."
Not much is known about pygmy sperm whales. They're not considered endangered, but they're rarely seen at sea. Strandings of the small whales are not uncommon, with as many as four or five per year in South Carolina.
A nursing mother and her calf were found on Sullivan's Island in June 2009. The mother had swallowed a black plastic trash bag and died of starvation. The calf couldn't live without her.
The 10-foot-long, 1,100 pound male found Saturday by Litchfield beach-goers was rolling in the incoming tide.
"It's very sad," said Lloyd Mackall of Murrells Inlet, who photographed the stranding. "You know it's nature and that it's inevitable something will happen. But it's sad."