On the occasion of Dolphin Awareness Month, we would like to share a few facts about these charismatic cetaceans. Dolphins are some of the fastest animals in the sea. But when they strand on mud and sand they are unable to move on their own.
Luckily there are people like the International Fund for Animal Welfare’s (IFAW) Marine Mammal Rescue and Research team available to come to their aid in top stranding hotspots like Cape Cod, Massachusetts.
IFAW’s expert biologists respond to marine mammals in trouble along 700 miles of coastline on the southeastern part of the state. They’re armed with animal ambulances, boats, all-terrain vehicles, animal carts and stretchers, ultrasound equipment and on-site blood analysis. (Look inside a dolphin rescue here.)
1 Cape Cod is the hotspot for strandings
Because it is essentially a hook within a hook, Wellfleet, Massachusetts wins the prize for the most frequent dolphin strandings in the world. Usually there is a good reason why a dolphin comes to shore. For the best chance of survival, they may need medical treatment and they may need to be transported to deeper water access before being released back to the ocean. While it may be tempting to push a wayward dolphin back out to sea, the best thing to do is to stay nearby and call for help. If you’re on Cape Cod, call IFAW’s 24-hour hotline: 508-743-9548.
2 Strandings are like car accidents for dolphins
IFAW’s marine mammal rescue experts do everything possible to ease their stress including administering intravenous fluids to help avoid dehydration and vitamin injections to minimize muscle cramping. Although unfortunate, strandings provide an opportunity for scientists to learn about their health and behavior. IFAW rescuers and veterinarians conduct on-the-spot blood analysis, ultrasounds and hearing tests and share this data with responders around the world.
3 Dolphins can survive out of the water for several hours
As mammals, dolphins can breathe on land with the nostrils on top of their head called a blowhole. IFAW places rescued dolphins on soft mats to help minimize lung compression caused by the pressure of being on land and keep them from leaning sideways so they can inflate both lungs.
4 Dolphins are social species and travel in groups called pods
Sometimes their social nature leads to healthy dolphins following sick or injured pod members to shore. During strandings IFAW’s rescue team positions dolphins facing each other in a star formation so they can see the other members of their group. This simple measure increases their ability to communicate through chirps and whistles and appears to reduce their outward signs of stress.
Gently sloping beaches and fine sand sediment found on Cape Cod and other stranding hotspots like Australia and New Zealand may interrupt dolphins’ ability to see and communicate and may contribute to strandings. Solar storms may also play a role by short-circuiting their internal compasses. NASA and IFAW are teaming up now to study the latter hypothesis with results expected at the end of 2017.
6 IFAW’s cutting-edge science has directly saved hundreds of dolphins in our region
Survivor rates of mass stranded dolphins and whales has increased from 14 percent in 2004 to more than 70 percent in 2016, one of the highest success rates in the world. Want to see for yourself? Watch seven dolphins released back to the ocean here.
7 IFAW is developing the first-ever prevention program to avert strandings before they happen
As soon as the team receives word that dolphins are swimming in dangerous locations, they hit the water in boats. These boats equipped with special high frequency acoustic devices called ‘pingers.’ Expertly navigating the boat to herd the dolphins, they safely encourage them into deeper water and out of danger.
8 When dolphins strand, the goal is to get healthy dolphins back into deep water quickly following a medical assessment
Sometimes the team discovers pregnant dolphins during ultrasound examinations. Knowing a female is carrying a calf makes the rescue mission even more critical. IFAW scientists assess the winds, tides, temperatures and travel time before deciding on the best release site for the dolphins.
9 Satellite tags can transmit data for up to 45 days
Whenever possible, the IFAW team affixes a satellite tag to the dorsal fin of one member of the pod. That way they can track their progress following release. Each rescued dolphin also receives a numbered identification tag.
Kerry Branon is an animal lover, environmentalist and filmmaker. She has helped support the mission of the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) to rescue and protect animals around the world for the past 14 years. She lives on Cape Cod with her spouse Lisa, their 4-year-old daughter Isabella, cat Oliver and dogs Edie and Kinana.
For more information about IFAW, click here.