Since January 12, about 116 dolphins have beached themselves on the shores of Cape Cod, Massachusetts, with about 100 of them being stranded in just the past two weeks. Sadly, at least 80 have been found dead or died shortly after being found. Scientists are trying to determine why they have been swimming so close to the shore. It’s suggested that the dolphins may have been lost or confused by changing tides or water temperatures (it has been a very mild winter on the east cost), or that they could be diseased.
Using specially outfitted stretchers, rescue workers from the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) have been able to save 30 of the dolphins. Katie Moore, the IFAW’s Manager of Marine Mammal Rescue and Research, describes how rescuers worked to save nine dolphins, six found in a sand bank three-quarters of a mile from the beach and three stuck in “very shallow water”:
With the help of trained volunteers, we extricated the dolphins from the sand flats and safely transferred them from the beach to our rescue trailers where we checked the health of the animals to see if we would be able to attempt release.
All nine animals looked good and we made a plan to release them out to open waters on the outer Cape. Based on the winds and tides, we decided that Head of the Meadow Beach in Truro would be the ideal location to give these animals the best chance of survival. At about 6:15 pm, we were finally able to get all of these wayward dolphins back in the water where they belong. We satellite tagged one of the animals and it seems to be moving very well. The tag transmitted at 8:47 am today and was 10 miles off shore on the Wellfleet/Truro border on the ocean side.
On Friday, Moore testified before the US House Natural Resources Sub-committee about what she says is the “largest stranding of a single species on record” in the US’s northeast region.
Brian Sharp, Emergency Relief Officer and Stranding Coordinator for the IFAW, told ABC News that among the dolphins was one female who was pregnant with what was probably a third trimester calf. Fortunately, she was successfully released back into the water.
Teri Rowles heads the marine mammals division of the government’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and says that, while Cape Cod is a “hot spot for mass strandings,” it is rare that so many members of one species (the common dolphin, in this case) are involved.
Moore points out that the very sociability of dolphins may have contributed to their undoing. Noting that they are “very intelligent animals with very large brains,” she says that “there is something about the way they bond to one another” that leads to them sticking together when in trouble. When they find themselves in shallow water, “the bond becomes a liability … and that may be why they mass strand.”
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