Tracking rescued dolphin shows promise for survival

IFAW’s Misty Niemeyer and AmeriCorps Jori Barley support the dolphin in preparation for release.

About a week after rescuing and releasing a single stranded dolphin, reports from a satellite tag show the animal is faring well and has returned to open waters where dolphin pods congregate off the coast of Cape Cod.

The International Fund for Animal Welfare’s Marine Mammal Rescue and Research team had received reports of a dolphin stranded at Wellfleet’s Herring River gut last week.  

Rescuers extract the dolphin from the stranding siteIFAW’s local volunteer responders were quickly on the scene to care for the dolphin and keep scavengers away. Our staff and interns immediately mobilized, deploying our specially equipped enclosed dolphin rescue trailer.

The dolphin was a white-sided dolphin (Lagenorhychus acutus), a highly social species common to our waters and one that has been known to mass strand in large numbers. 

Once on the scene, our team discovered that the dolphin had sustained injuries to her flukes and flippers, which were likely caused by a coyote or fox before she was discovered and reported.

She was showing signs of stress and dehydration. Other than a nearby dead dolphin, who likely stranded at the same time, she was alone, not good for a social species.

In years past the decision would have been clear: She would not have been considered a candidate for relocation and release and would have been humanely euthanized. But over the years our team has challenged the belief that social species that have stranded singularly have no chance of survival.

READ: Satellite tags show Risso’s dolphin’s far-ranging movements since release

We believed that some might have a chance of surviving a stranding and integrating back into a pod. We have demonstrated just that with satellite tag data and re-sights of other released single-stranded dolphins. With that knowledge we continued on.

IFAW staff administer treatments in the rescue trailer.In the rescue trailer our team assessed the dolphin to try to determine the best course of action for her.  Bloodwork, physical exam, vital signs, etc. were analyzed.  After careful assessment and consultation with our veterinarian, she was determined to be a “borderline” case, so we decided to give her a chance.

Normally, we would release in Provincetown, fairly close to the stranding site, but weather conditions that day made that site dangerous for a release.  We needed to make the hour long trip to an alternative release site at Scusset Beach in Sandwich.  While en route, we administered intravenous fluids and other medical treatments to keep the dolphin comfortable and to give her the best possible chance of survival.  We affixed a temporary satellite tag to her dorsal fin to monitor her movements.

Her release at Scusset Beach was nerve-racking. The team acclimated her back to the water, and at first she had trouble keeping herself upright. We were concerned, but as the sun was setting, she surfaced in the distance and swam off strong.

While it is still early, we are hopeful that she will recover and find her way back to a pod. The team will continue to monitor her progress. The map below shows her movements as of today, and indicates she is not far from where a pod of white-sided dolphins was recently observed.

--KP

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Experts

Senior Program Advisor
Senior Program Advisor
Brian Sharp, Emergency Relief Officer, Stranding Coordinator
Manager, Marine Mammal Rescue and Research
Céline Sissler-Bienvenu, Director, France and Francophone Africa
Director, France and Francophone Africa
IFAW Veterinarian
Gail A'Brunzo, Manager, Wildlife Rescue
Manager, Wildlife Rescue
Veterinarian, DVM, PhD
Veterinarian, DVM, PhD
Katie Moore, Deputy Vice President, Conservation and Animal Welfare
Deputy Vice President, Conservation and Animal Welfare
Loïs Lelanchon, Animal Rescue Program Officer
Animal Rescue Program Officer
Shannon Walajtys
Manager, Animal Rescue-Disasters
Vivek Menon, Director of IFAW partner, Wildlife Trust of India
Senior Advisor to the CEO on Strategic Partnerships & Philanthropy