Mass Strandings on Cape Cod Top 100 Dolphins, then Slow

Mass Strandings on Cape Cod Top 100 Dolphins, then Slow

Michele Berger
Published: 02/01/2012

A total of 111 Common dolphins were stranded off Cape Cod in 2012. The International Fund for Animal Welfare lead the rescue effort. Photo: IFAW/M. Booth

This January, Cape Cod saw a flood of more than 100 stranded Common dolphins. Some came in waves, groups of 60 or more, according to the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW). Others came alone.

Sadly, more than 50 died before IFAW, the lead rescue operation, could reach the marine mammals to get them back into water. But happily, IFAW reports it successfully released almost two-dozen dolphins and hasn’t seen any additional strandings since a week ago this past Monday. The organization will brief Congress about the issue this coming Friday, February 3.

Dolphins do wash up on Cape Cod—in fact, it’s one of the three most common spots for this to happen, along with places in Australia and New Zealand. The reason: most likely the land’s “hook-like shape, gently sloping beaches and extensive sand and mud flats,” according to Kate Moore, IFAW’s Marine Mammal Rescue and Research Manager.

Even though this does happen often, this year’s numbers are still astounding: IFAW typically responds to 120 strandings during an entire January-to-April season. And that’s in a bad year. “By Jan. 23, the count was 85,” reports The New York Times. “The scale of this mass stranding is unique,” says Brian Sharp, IFAW Stranding Coordinator. He says during a short, few-day period, the group responded to dolphins along 25 miles of coastline.

The rescue work can really take a toll on those doing the heavy lifting, so to speak, a group that included both IFAW staff and trained volunteers. It takes at least eight people to move one dolphin, which can weigh nearly 300 pounds and reach almost 9 feet in length. The animals have to be transported on a stretcher, then by a specially designed rescue trailer, back to the water. They’re only released after a thorough medical check reveals that they’re healthy. That means a serious effort when dolphin numbers top 100.

“It’s just about as intense as I’ve ever experienced,” Moore told The Times.

IFAW took the up-close-and-personal opportunity with the dolphins to tag six of them with tiny, temporary satellites to track their location daily. (The tags drop off on their own, after a few weeks.) Data so far show that some of the half dozen dolphins have traveled nearly 200 miles already. With any luck, the animals will remain far away from the problematic areas and end stranding season early for IFAW.

Note: If you see a stranded dolphin, IFAW requests you call its emergency hotline at 508-743-9548.


The IFAW tagged six of the dolphins with satellite trackers. Photo: IFAW/M. Booth