With 2012 behind us, is this the calm before the 2013 dolphin stranding storm?
As I sit at my desk thinking about all the preparations that need to be performed, I can’t help but wonder if it’s going to be another busy year in the world of marine mammal rescue.
I am referring to the impending marine mammal stranding season that lasts roughly from December through April.
Last year, as a member of the International Fund for Animal Welfare’s Marine Mammal Rescue and Research team, I was part of the response efforts during the largest dolphin stranding season on record within the East Coast.
Two-hundred and seventeen live and dead common dolphins stranded in four months.
If one does a small amount of math, that comes out to a little less than two stranded dolphin responses a day for 120 straight days!
The year-end total for live and dead stranded marine mammals was a record breaking 375 animals, which is the highest yearly total we have responded to in our 14 year history.
So as you can imagine, even the thought of a repeat of last year starts to get my psyche in a bit of a bind.
Throughout this past summer we had two additional mass stranding events, involving a total of 25 dolphins, of which 20 were successfully relocated and released.
Our successful release rate for live stranded dolphins in 2012 was a remarkable 74%.
In the fall months gray and harbor seal strandings popped up on Cape Cod beaches and required some additional health monitoring and assessment combined with biological sampling for disease surveillance.
As 2012 began to creep to an end, we focused our efforts on analyzing some of the data we collected in order to assess baseline health parameters, monitor disease prevalence, assess body condition, and evaluate post-release survivorship.
These data will help us continue to improve the care we provide to stranded animals and to increase the survival rate.
On a larger scale this information provides incredible insight into the health status of wild marine mammal species and can serve as a proxy for overall marine ecosystem heath.
So here we are, just barely into the New Year and already the double and triple checking of head lamp batteries, re-packing of blood collection tubes, and ultrasound machine charging has begun.
What will this winter bring to our shores?
Who knows, but I can assure you that the Marine Mammal Rescue and Research team will be ready; although “calm” might not be the operative word at that point.
CT spoke with Public Radio International's "Living On Earth" about what he called a possible correlation between the strandings and the North Atlantic Oscillation. Take a listen using the SoundCloud player below.