Cape Cod Awash in Mass Dolphin Strandings

177 dolphins beached in past month

By Evann Gastaldo,  Newser Staff

Posted Feb 16, 2012 12:57 PM CST

(Newser) – Over the past month, 177 dolphins have stranded themselves on Cape Cod, nearly five times the average of a typical full year, and 124 of those have died. As researchers struggle to understand what's behind the mass beachings, the International Fund for Animal Welfare works to help the dolphins whenever a new group is stranded. The AP relates the group's most recent efforts, when a group of 11 was found beached in a remote inlet. Rescuers had to walk through treacherous muck to get to them, and found one already dead.

They decided to wait for the tide to free the remaining 10 stuck in the shallows, who looked healthy; some were banging their tails in an effort to move. Once freed, the dolphins were herded by boats out of the danger zone, but there's no guarantee the herding technique will work, or that the dolphins won't just beach themselves again. IFAW tags and takes blood samples of beached dolphins and necropsies of the ones that die, and a congressional briefing was even held on the issue, but the reasons behind the mass strandings remain a mystery. Researchers have mentioned changes in weather, water temperature, or prey behavior as possible causes—or the dolphins could also be getting lost or trapped along the Cape's jagged geography.

In this Jan. 19, 2012 file photo, Patty Walsh monitors the breathing of a stranded common dolphin while a team behind her prepares to move another dolphin at Herring River in Wellfleet, Mass.
In this Jan. 19, 2012 file photo, Patty Walsh monitors the breathing of a stranded common dolphin while a team behind her prepares to move another dolphin at Herring River in Wellfleet, Mass.   (AP Photo/Julia Cumes, File)
In this Jan. 19, 2012 file photo, two stranded common dolphins wait to be transported to a waiting vehicle by a team from the International Fund for Animal Welfare at Herring River in Wellfleet, Mass.
In this Jan. 19, 2012 file photo, two stranded common dolphins wait to be transported to a waiting vehicle by a team from the International Fund for Animal Welfare at Herring River in Wellfleet, Mass.   (AP Photo/Julia Cumes, File)
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