2 September 2011
(Yarmouth Port, MA) - As the afternoon tide was going out on the last day of August; 13 common dolphins headed toward the shoreline off First Encounter Beach in Eastham, MA. Rescuers from the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW - www.ifaw.org) responded quickly - rescuing 11 healthy animals from certain death.
First, the team tried to herd the animals back out to open water by dropping acoustic deterrents called pingers from a boat, but unfortunately this technique was unsuccessful and the pod of dolphins beached themselves despite their efforts.
“Our goal was to get the healthy animals back out to open water as soon as possible,” said Katie Moore, IFAW’s Marine Mammal Rescue team Manager. “Two of the animals died almost immediately after stranding, but fortunately we were able to transport 11 remaining dolphins to Herring Cove Beach in Provincetown and release them to the safety of open water. This is the largest number of dolphins we have ever rescued and released at one time.”
The team of five IFAW staff along with dozens of trained volunteers and eager beachgoers lifted the animals weighing between 175 and 250 pounds each into dolphin slings. Two by two the animals were wheeled in purpose-built dolphin carts from the beach flats to rescue trailers lined with soft mats waiting at the edge of the parking lot where IFAW’s marine biologists and veterinarian ran full health assessments on the animals.
“When dolphins strand it’s very stressful for them similar to a car accident for humans,” said CT Harry, IFAW’s Stranding Coordinator. “While they’re out of the water, we keep them as comfortable as we can. We place the dolphins face to face in a star pattern so they can communicate, remove any sand from their eye area and pour water over them regularly to keep them from overheating.”
Common dolphins are social animals that depend upon the safety and resources of the group in order to survive. An entire pod of dolphins may follow sick or injured animals from their group to shore resulting in a mass stranding.
“Although it has happened before, mass strandings of dolphins are uncommon at this time of year. This stranding was quite unexpected,” said Moore. “Rescuing this many animals at one time was amazing.”
Marine mammals strand in greatest numbers in the winter months, but this year has been exceptionally busy for IFAW’s team. They have already responded to 251 animals in the first eight months of the year including minke, humpback and sperm whales, gray seals and common dolphins. This is more than the annual average for this area and more strandings than in any of the past three years.