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About 300 dolphins at risk of stranding safely guided out of Wellfleet harbor; two dolphins dead

Two common dolphins are prepared to be released by a team from the International Fund for Animal Welfare into Cape Cod Bay on January 16, 2012.M. Booth/IFAW/REUTERS

An animal welfare group said today they helped about 300 dolphins swim out of Wellfleet harbor, where they may have been in danger of stranding themselves.

The group said seven dolphins did strand themselves this afternoon, and the group treated five of them. One dolphin died shortly after stranding itself and another died because it was inaccessible.

“Fortunately, with a lot of help from the harbor master, we were able to herd them out of the harbor,” Michael Booth, communications officer for the International Fund for Animal Welfare, said.

Booth said the group used underwater sonic devices and boats to direct the pod of dolphins out of the harbor. Booth described the process as similar to herding cattle.


The five dolphins the group was able to rescue were taken to the group’s trailer, where five staff members and 20 volunteers evaluated the health of the animals.

“We run a lot of tests,” Booth said. “We draw blood from these dolphins, we do an auditory examination to make sure their hearing is fine, take measurements. ... we note down everything.”

Before releasing the dolphins ocean in Herring Cove in Provincetown, members of the group placed a tracking device on one of the dolphins, he said.

Along with areas in New Zealand and Australia, Cape Cod is one of the top three stranding locations in the world, according to the group’s statement. The group said mass strandings often occur between January and April.

“No one knows for sure why animals strand, but mass strandings of whales and dolphins have happened on Cape Cod for hundreds of years,” said Katie Moore, the group’s marine mammal rescue and research manager, in a statement. “The topography of the Cape is likely a factor, with its hook-like shape, gently sloping beaches and extensive sand and mud flats.”


Though strandings are historically common, Booth said a remarkably large number of dolphins have already stranded on the Cape this year.

“The number of total dolphins that have stranded is up to around 90,” he said. “Of those, we have seen around 35 of them stranding alive, and now with these new 5 dolphins, we’ve successfully released 24.”

Booth said tonight, shortly after releasing the five dolphins that were saved, that his group expects to make more rescues in the next few days.

“We’re gearing up, we’re getting prepared,” he said. “We’re going to clean all our equipment up for tomorrow, and we expect to have another busy day tomorrow.”

Globe Correspondent Zachary T. Sampson contributed to this report. Colin A. Young can be reached at