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125 Atlantic dolphins strand off Cape Cod


Challenging work for IFAW staff and volunteers in Cape Cod (IFAW)
Challenging work for IFAW staff and volunteers in Cape Cod (IFAW)

Rescuers counted 125 Atlantic white-sided dolphins caught up on Friday, 28 June in what the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) described as  “the largest single mass stranding event” in the group’s 26-year history in the area, a hotspot for strandings.

The incident occurred in shallow mudflats around Wellfleet, Massachusetts, a town described as halfway between the tip and elbow of Cape Cod. The epicentre was in an area known as the Herring River Gut that often sees strandings because of its hooked shape and extreme tidal fluctuations, though not on such a massive scale.

Using one of three RIBs to reach the scattered dolphins (IFAW)
Using one of three small vessels to reach the scattered dolphins (IFAW)

“We arrived to what appeared to be 80 to 100 dolphins on the shallow mudflats of Wellfleet’s Herring River Gut – a global epicentre for mass strandings,” said IFAW stranding co-ordinator Misty Niemeyer. “We were able to provide supportive care, help those that were struggling, and keep them comfortable and ready for the incoming tide.”

Atlantic white-sided dolphins close to shore (IFAW)
Atlantic white-sided dolphins close to shore (IFAW)

Ten dolphins were already reported to have died by the time the teams arrived, and IFAW said that the animals' dispersal over a wide area, hot sun and tricky mud conditions made the operation to save the rest of them more challenging.

IFAW said that it had at least 25 staff as well as 100 trained volunteers at the scene, herding the dolphins initially on foot and then using three small boats and the sound of underwater pingers to encourage them to move further out of the estuary back into deeper waters. 

The bigger of IFAW's three boats (IFAW)
The bigger of IFAW's three boats at the scene (IFAW)

Helped by the rising tide this appeared to be working as additional volunteers from Whale & Dolphin Conservation, the Centre for Coastal Studies, AmeriCorps of Cape Cod and the New England Aquarium joined in to assist in the rescue effort up to sunset.

“It was a 12-hour exhausting response in the unrelenting sun, but the team was able to overcome the various challenges and give the dolphins their best chance at survival,” said Niedemeyer.

Some remaining dolphins were herded out of the shallows the next day. The precise reason for the phenomenal stranding event was unknown. 

Also read: Mass dolphin stranding in Aberdeenshire, Quick thinking saves Risso’s dolphins in Lough Foyle, BDMLR rescue stranded dolphin, Monty Halls rescues stranded dolphin

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