Dolphins rescued from mud in Thames Estuary

Dolphins Image copyright Essex Fire and Rescue Service
Image caption It is thought the dolphins may have gone "off route"

Two dolphins had to be rescued from the Thames Estuary after getting stuck in muddy waters.

They were spotted in trouble near the shore at Stanford-le-Hope, Essex, at about 12:00 GMT on Monday.

They were freed after a five-hour rescue operation by the fire service, coastguard, RNLI and British Divers Marine Life Rescue (BDMLR).

Al Green, from the fire service, said: "It's not every day that you come across dolphins in Essex."

A hovercraft was used to allow rescuers to reach the dolphins stuck about 200m (656 ft) from the shore.

Julia Cable, national co-ordinator for BDMLR, said sightings of common dolphins in the Thames Estuary are "fairly rare" and the species are often found in deeper waters or on the western coast of Great Britain.

Miss Cable said "nobody's reported any other animals so it might be that these two went off route" and ended up stuck.

She said: "The fire service managed to move the dolphins into a certain depth of water so we could support the animals which slowly get their balance right again."

Image copyright Essex Fire and Rescue Service
Image caption The rescue operation lasted about five hours

After a number of attempts, the dolphins were eventually released into the sea at about 17:45, swimming off together.

Mr Green added: "With the tide not expected to come in until several hours after the dolphins became stuck, we knew how important it was that we came to their aid.

"Thankfully both animals are okay and back in the open water."

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