Rescuers Race To Save 125 Dolphins In One Of The Largest Mass Strandings Off Cape Cod

Photos by IFAW 

A record-breaking mass stranding of 125 dolphins became stuck in shallow mud flats off Cape Cod, Massachusetts, on Friday. This marks the largest event of its kind in decades according to the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW).

The first report was initially understood to be 10 Atlantic white-sided dolphins close to shore off Wellfleet early Friday morning. As responders consisting of IFAW staff and volunteers arrived on scene, they eventually identified 125 dolphins – the largest single mass stranding in IFAW’s 26-year history on Cape Cod. Sadly, 10 dolphins had already passed.

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

The dolphins were herded in a highly coordinated response effort to encourage their movement back to deeper waters, first on foot and then switching to boating efforts as the water returned to high tide at 4:56pm. Two IFAW vessels and the Wellfleet Harbormaster continued their efforts until sunset at 8:15pm.

The Herring River ‘Gut’ is a frequent stranding location due to its hook-like shape and extreme tidal fluctuations.

“This rescue had many challenges due to the number of dolphins, the large size of many of the animals, how spread out they were over a large area, the difficult mud conditions, and the complicated locations from which we could reach them,” said Niemeyer. “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.”

As daylight fell, most of the dolphins seemed to have found their way to deeper waters offshore. A dozen or more continued swimming in the inner harbor until sunset Friday night.

The entire effort involved over 150 people, including at least 25 IFAW staff, 100 trained volunteers, and additional assistance from AmeriCorps of Cape Cod, Whale and Dolphin Conservation, the New England Aquarium, the Center for Coastal Studies, and the Wellfleet Harbormaster.

At first light Saturday morning, an IFAW team was on the water to find 10 of the dolphins swimming in a dangerous area, and efforts have been successful to herd them towards deeper water. IFAW scouts found another group of 25 dolphins swimming close to shore in Eastham. Herding efforts are ongoing as the tide continues to drop through midday on Saturday.

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