WELLFLEET — Bright and early on May 18, the stranding hotline at the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) was ringing off the hook. “We received an onslaught of calls from people who were on beach walks or out on the water,” said Misty Niemeyer, IFAW’s stranding coordinator.
People began calling around 7 a.m. to report the stranding of seven Atlantic white-sided dolphins along the Gut — that skinny stretch of sand between the end of Chequessett Neck Road and Great Island. Many who frequent this area have rung up IFAW before. The Gut, after all, is notorious for snagging marine mammals, owing to its convoluted geography.
“It’s like a hook shape within the larger hook shape of Cape Cod,” said Andrea Spence, IFAW’s communications technician. Animals may chase prey into the Gut’s coves and inlets, which are known to be mucky and difficult to navigate. “And before you know it,” Spence said, “the tide has gone out from under them.”
That morning, more than 40 responders arrived on the scene, comprising IFAW staff, AmeriCorps members, and trained volunteers. The National Park Service also showed up to help manage crowds.
Tom Simeone, an IFAW volunteer who drove out from Yarmouth, noticed one of the dolphins was on its side. He helped other responders roll the animal upright, positioning the blowhole out of the waves. Rolling stretchers up a hill near the Blasch house, teams lugged the beached dolphins into IFAW’s mobile dolphin rescue clinic, which can support up to nine animals being treated for dehydration and shock, according to a press release from the organization. The heftiest dolphin weighed roughly 250 pounds and needed a crew of a dozen for transport.
IFAW’s veterinarian gave the seven dolphins fluids, vitamins, and medication. Most of them were in good health, Niemeyer told the Independent, but one animal appeared to be more stressed than the others. The team put a temporary satellite tag on its dorsal fin to monitor its movements and survival.
IFAW started tagging dolphins in 2010, and the data they collected allowed the organization to move away from its earlier practice of euthanizing single stranded dolphins. Contrary to the prevailing belief at the time, the data indicated that lone dolphins can survive and rejoin their pods after being released, Spence said.
Around 2 p.m., the seven dolphins were driven to the Herring Cove Beach parking lot in Provincetown, where they were loaded onto stretchers once more. Teams rolled them down to the beach, and the animals were floated into the waves in staggered shifts. A trio splashed back into the ocean, followed by a first pair, then another pair.
“The last one took its time,” Niemeyer said, “but eventually, it took off. We’ll keep our fingers crossed that they’ll swim out into deep water and head offshore, and we’ll keep an eye on that satellite tag.”
So far this year, IFAW has assisted 125 stranded animals, according to Stacey Hedman, the communications director. In August 2020, the Gut was the site of the stranding of 45 common dolphins.