From New England to Peru, an unprecedented number of dolphins have been beaching themselves in recent weeks, and experts are grappling to understand why.
On Cape Cod alone, 177 short-beaked common dolphins have become stranded and 124 have died, according to an Associated Press report. The report goes on to say that the total is nearly five times the average of 37 common dolphins that have stranded themselves there annually during the last 12 years.
More than 200 dolphins have washed up dead on the beaches of Chiclayo, Peru, according to news reports. In that case, dead anchovies were also found. Since these small fish are prey, the dolphins may have become ill as a result of eating them, but the deaths remain a mystery.
The International Fund for Animal Welfare has been handling rescue efforts in Massachusetts. In her blog, Katie Moore of the IFAW recently described what it can be like at the scene:
Yesterday we had a young Atlantic white sided dolphin strand alive in Wellfleet. The female appeared to be a calf, probably over a year old. She must have come in on the high tide at about 2:00am - she was as high as she could get on the beach, wedged up against the bulkhead. Our early morning crew must not have been able to see her from above. This young dolphin was emaciated - so thin it was obvious she has been deteriorating for quite a while. She appeared dehydrated, her skin was peeling and cracking. We worked with our volunteers and colleagues from the Riverhead foundation in New York to extract her from the beach. We placed her on a soft foam mat to make her more comfortable while we did a quick exam. Her poor condition was obvious - very low breathing rate, emaciated, unresponsive. She was dying. The most humane thing we could do was to humanely euthanize her. We put her to sleep the same way a vet would do for a beloved pet. She went very quietly. Although it is always hard to put an animal down, we knew it was the kindest thing we could do for this young dolphin.