A BOTTLE-NOSE dolphin nicknamed ‘Flipper’ by locals has been trapped in East Ballina’s Prospect Lake for more than a week.

Marine mammal experts fear the dolphin could die if it stays in the lake much longer and have planned a rescue operation for this morning to relocate it into the nearby Richmond River estuary.

Resident Luke Barr said his jaw dropped when he first saw Flipper about two weeks ago, while fishing at the lake.

“My mate’s face went red and I wondered what was wrong. Then I saw the dolphin too,” he said.

“I’ve seen it almost every day for the past two weeks.

It hangs around when we go fishing and has come as close as two metres from us.”

Liz Hawkins, a PhD student from the whale research centre at Southern Cross University (SCU) said it was not unusual that Flipper had gone into the lake, as bottle-nose dolphins often went looking for food in lakes and estuaries.

The concern was that it had not been able to get out and was likely to catch a fatal skin disease from being in fresh water for too long, or run out of food. Dolphins eat up to 10kg of fish each day.

Lawrence Orel, from the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service, said a dolphin in similar circumstances had died from starvation after staying in the lake for a few weeks in 2000.

National Parks and Wildlife, Australian Seabird Rescue and experts from SCU and Seaworld are working on the rescue with support from Ballina Shire Council and NSW Fisheries.