a periodic purgative

March 16, 2010

Saving Dolphins in Wellfleet

Posted by-- The Management @ 11:34 PM August 21, 2010

On March 11th and 12th, I had the opportunity to document the efforts of IFAW’s Marine Mammal Rescue team while they attempted to rescue and release a reported 16 dolphins in two separate locations from the nastiest, deepest, quicksand-like mud I have ever stepped in. I have to say, I don’t want their job. Let me set the scene.

Thursday morning a call came in around 5 AM  from a home owner in Wellfleet stating that he had seen a number of dolphins swimming in the cove off his house. The tide was going out and it looked like these animals  were disoriented and confused.

When IFAW’s Marine Mammal Rescue team arrived  at low tide, around 10 AM, they observed a number of animals stuck in the mud. It turns out that there were 8 white-sided dolphins stranded in Drummer Cove and another 6 to 8 at Lt. Island.

A pelagic species, the Atlantic white-sided dolphin is accustomed to open water. Apparently the dolphins get trapped by the unusual topography of the Cape. They follow their food in around the hook of the outer Cape. The coves of Wellfleet are like a hook within a hook. The dolphins swim in following the fish they feed on but can’t find their way out. They strand when the tide goes out from under them, leaving them stuck in the mud on the bottom.

This was the first time I’ve been out on a dolphin stranding. I’m acustomed to chalenging working cinditions, but this was unique, even for the experienced MMR team. The responders were literally in the mud up to their chest. And this wasn’t ordinary mud. This was a tar like suck-you-in-and-keep-you-forever type of substance. Mind you, I didn’t wade out in the stuff myself, it was too dangerous for anyone but a few responders to slog out to the animals that could be reached. But even the muck I stood in closer to shore was threatening to give way at any moment. At one point a soft spot pulled me in over my ankle and sucked the wadder right off my foot.

Only 2 of this group of eight could be reached safely. The other six had to be left. The hope was that they would be able to free themselves at the next high tide.

At Lieutenant Island another six were stranded. When we arrived to join the team already on site, two of the dolphins were already dead, but the team as able to save the other four.

With all of the rescued animals loaded into the trailers, we headed off to Herring Cove beach outside of Provincetown, the eastern most part of the Cape. As night fell, all six rescued dolphins were released back to the open waters of the Atlantic.

The following day at first light, the team headed back out to see what could be done about the animals that had been left the day before. But that’s a story for another post.

IFAW Dolphin Rescue – 3/11/10 from Rich Moos on Vimeo.

IFAW’s Marine Mammal Rescue team attempts to rescue a reported 16 dolphins stranded in various parts or Wellfleet MA.

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