Cetacean Society International
Whales Alive! - Vol. IX No. 4 - October 2000
Cape Cod Stranding Network, Inc. -
Rescuing Marine Mammals Around the Clock
By Heather Rockwell, CSI Representative
An Atlantic white-sided dolphin - one of the most commonly stranded marine
mammals on Cape Cod.
Marine mammals have been stranding along beaches and shores around the
world for centuries. Here in New England where Cetacean Society International
is based, strandings of cetaceans is a common event. In particular, the
coastline of Cape Cod, Massachusetts is noteworthy for the high level of live
and mass strandings of marine mammals that occur there. As recently as the
1950's, people were still utilizing the oil and meat from stranded marine
mammals found on the beaches of Cape Cod. Today, the attitude towards marine
mammals has changed and people now rush to the scene of a stranding with the
intent of helping the animals in distress.
On Cape Cod, a network of volunteers formed that responded to calls to
rescue stranded whales and dolphins. The need for a constant presence to
handle the numerous stranding situations in the region was apparent. Finally,
in the fall of 1998, the Cape Cod Stranding Network, Inc. (CCSN) was formally
incorporated with a mission "to provide humane care, management and full
scientific investigation of marine mammals in this region." The CCSN
strives to fulfill its mission by focusing on several goals, which include
rapid response to all stranding events, effective and progressive medical
treatment, cutting edge protocols, full scientific investigation of live and
dead animals, and conservation through education and outreach to volunteers
and local communities.
Today, the CCSN is run by a full-time Program Director and Stranding
Coordinator, who are on call 24 hours a day to respond to marine mammal
strandings. A core group of trained volunteers is always on standby to assist
the staff when called upon. Equipment like dry suits, stretchers, flatbed
trailers and inflatable boats are all a part of the CCSN's response
efforts. After arriving on the scene of a stranding, the CCSN assesses the
situation and decides what is best for the animals: should the animals be
rescued, should they be returned to the water, should they be relocated to
another site and then released, should they be relocated to a rehabilitation
facility for treatment, or should they be euthanized.
During the past year, the CCSN received over 350 reports of stranded marine
mammals. While 249 of these reports did not involve any direct action, the
remaining 138 stranding events required an immediate response by the CCSN.
Atlantic white-sided and Common dolphins and Pilot whales are the most
commonly stranded cetaceans in New England. The CCSN also responds to seal
strandings, including resident populations of harbor and gray seals. However,
in recent years, there has been an increase in the number of Harp and Hooded
seals stranding on Cape Cod, where normally they are found much further north
on the ice off Canada and the Arctic.
Most recently, the CCSN was on hand for a mass stranding of Atlantic
white-sided dolphins. This is what happened. On Saturday, August 26th, I
received a phone call at 6:45 a.m. from Katie Touhey, Program Director of the
Cape Cod Stranding Network. She was calling to alert me to a stranding
situation involving 30 Atlantic white-sided dolphins in Herring River in
Wellfleet, MA. She was going to need people to assist her with the rescue of
these animals, so I immediately alerted members of the core CCSN volunteer
response team. Most of us were on the scene to help Katie and the dolphins by
Herring River is an area known for high incidences of strandings due to its
topography and low level of water at low tide. Dolphins swim up river at high
tide, but become confused and trapped as the tide ebbs. This particular group
of dolphins had been seen feeding and swimming in Herring River the previous
evening. Overnight, eleven animals stranded and died during the low tide
cycle. Now, on Saturday morning, we were faced with the very real possibility
of the remaining dolphins stranding as the tide receded. A decision was made
to try to herd the animals back out of Herring River and into the open waters
of Cape Cod Bay. Boats were launched and by 10:00 a.m., the dolphin rescue
mission was underway.
CCSN staff and volunteers in one of the boats used to herd the dolphins
out into Cape Cod Bay.
(International Wildlife Coalition)
I was lucky enough to be in the lead boat used to herd the dolphins. We
tried several times unsuccessfully to keep the dolphins together and swimming
out of the river towards deeper water. Unfortunately, they consistently became
confused and would turn back into shallower water. Finally, a plan was
formulated to use "pingers" to keep the dolphins on track to open
Pingers are acoustic deterrent devices that emit a high frequency acoustic
signal when placed in the water. The signal is offensive to cetaceans and they
will swim away from it. Pingers were first used to keep marine mammals out of
fishing gear. The boats drove behind the animals and the pingers were lowered
into the water. Slowly, but surely, the dolphins began swimming out of Herring
River and into deeper water. By 12:30 p.m., the entire group of dolphins was
safely swimming offshore into Cape Cod Bay.
Overall, this was a successful summer rescue for the CCSN. Eleven animals
died during the stranding, but twenty dolphins were safely herded out to sea.
The cooperative effort between all the various agencies involved in the
response was tremendous. Hopefully, future rescue efforts will be as quick and
beneficial for the marine mammals in need of help.
You can help the CCSN by volunteering for stranding training, donating
equipment or supporting their efforts through funding. The Cape Cod Stranding
Network, Inc. can be reached at P.O. Box 287, Buzzards Bay, MA 02532, phone
http://www.capecodstranding.net. To report a marine
mammal in distress in the Cape Cod area, please call the CCSN Hotline at
CCSN Stranding Coordinator Liz Pomfret (left) and CCSN Program Director
Katie Touhey (right) attending to a stranded Striped Dolphin.
(International Wildlife Coalition)
Go to next article: News Notes or:
Table of Contents.
© Copyright 2000, Cetacean Society International, Inc.
URL for this page: http://csiwhalesalive.org/csi00406.html