Dolphin Strandings

February 16, 2012 by staff 

Dolphin Strandings, There’s no good spot on Cape Cod for dolphins to continue this winter’s massive and unexplained beachings, but a group of 11 has chosen one of the worst.

The remote inlet is a place where the tides recede fast and far, and that’s left the animals mired in a grayish-brown mud.

Walking is the only way to reach the animals, but it’s not easy. The muck that releases a footstep only after a sucking pop. One rescue volunteer hits a thigh-deep “hole” and tumbles.

One dolphin is dead, but the other 10 appear healthy, and some thump their tails in the shallows, struggling to move. Rescuers decide the best course is to wait for the incoming tide to free the dolphins, then boats can try to herd them out of trouble. The only alternative is hauling them to a waiting trailer, and open water. But the trailer is nearly a mile away.

Waiting has risks. Dolphins can’t survive long on land, and there’s no guarantee the boats can push the dolphins on to safety.

“Now’s where we start crossing our fingers,” said Brian Sharp of the International Fund for Animal Welfare.

A year ago, Tuesday’s 11 stranded dolphins would have seemed remarkable.

But in the last month, 177 short-beaked common dolphins have stranded on Cape Cod, and 124 have died.

So far, there’s no explanation.

Workers at the IFAW, which has led the rescue efforts, tag and take blood samples of the stranded animals, necropsies have been done on dead dolphins and a Congressional briefing was held early this month in the push for answers. But researchers can offer only theories about things such as changes in weather, water temperature or behavior of the dolphins’ prey.

Geography may also play a role, if the dolphins are getting lost along the Cape’s jagged inner coastline.

Rescuers work in pairs to move the dolphins on slings, bringing them closer together and pointing the right way.

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