Oyster workers rescue stranded porpoise from mud flats in Duxbury Bay

Pat Sullivan with the porpoise the young men rescued
Pat Sullivan with the porpoise the young men rescued
Hunter O’Brien

While working to pull oyster cages from the mud flats in Duxbury Bay late Friday morning, Chris Sullivan, his older brother, and two friends did something unexpected: rescue a young porpoise.

The boys, all Duxbury natives working for the Old Cove Oyster Co. for the summer while off from college, got their boat stuck in the mud during low tide near the channel opening at Shipyard Lane. While continuing to pull up cages, Sullivan’s older brother Pat noticed a fin sticking out of the mud roughly 100 feet from the boat.

Sullivan, 22, approached the animal stuck in the mud and noticed it had a blowhole, and thought it was a baby dolphin.

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“You see fish get stuck sometimes, but nothing like this,” the younger Sullivan said. This is the 20-year-old’s sixth summer working for the Duxbury-based oyster company.

Not sure what to do, the boys contacted Battelle, a scientific research lab with an office in Duxbury, which often fields calls from people who encounter animals in the bay, Battelle spokeswoman Katy Delaney said. The receptionist gave the young men the number for the New England Aquarium Emergency Rescue Line.

Not getting answers fast enough, the men then called the Duxbury police, who connected them to the Duxbury harbormaster. Because of low tide, the harbormaster couldn’t get directly to the men, but walked them through what to do, Sullivan said.

The harbormaster told the men they could scoop the animal out of the mud and put it back into the channel, Sullivan recounted. He also said the animal was a porpoise, not a dolphin, because of its circular nose.

Following the harbormaster’s instructions, the Sullivans, as well as 21-year-olds Hunter O’Brien and Spencer Ash, helped pull the porpoise from the mud, carry it over to the water, and slip it back into the bay.

“Once we let it go, it swam 10 feet out and then came back toward us, like it was saying ‘Thank you,’” before swimming back out to sea, Sullivan said.