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One dolphin dies, four survive stranding on Cape beach

Thaddia Wheeler and Brian Sharp placed one of the juvenile dolphins on a stretcher.

Steve Heaslip /Associated Press

Thaddia Wheeler and Brian Sharp placed one of the juvenile dolphins on a stretcher.

One dolphin died, but four others survived and were returned to the ocean after becoming stranded on a Cape Cod beach during low tide Thursday morning, officials said.

The pod of five juvenile common dolphins was seen struggling in the sand around 7 a.m. by walkers on a popular beach off Commercial Street in Provincetown, said Michael Booth, a spokesman for the International Fund for Animal Welfare.

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The dolphins were spread out, thrashing and making buzzing and clicking noises.

One died before volunteers arrived, most likely from shock, said Brian Sharp, manager of IFAW’s marine mammal rescue unit. “It’s a very traumatic event,” Sharp said. “Feeling the effects of gravity for the first time and the stress can make them go into shock, and with shock, there’s a chance of the body shutting down.”

Four dolphins were transported by IFAW using a special trailer to Herring Cove Beach in Provincetown. Volunteers drew the survivors’ blood and ran tests to determine whether they were healthy enough to release into the water at around 1 p.m., Sharp said.

“Herring Cove Beach is right at the tip of Provincetown and has the best access to deep water that we have,” he said. “They only have to swim a few feet before they’re in 20 to 30 feet of water.”

The four dolphins were released together to give them the best chance of survival. Traveling in a group lessens the chance of a stranding again.

“Dolphins are very social, and they live basically in pods,” Booth said.

If one dolphin strands itself, “there’s a likelihood the others will follow,” he said.

The same group method was used by volunteers during the morning rescue, when the four mammals were placed in a star-formation, facing each other.

“You could see them all immediately calm down,” Sharpe said. “Their vocalizations increased, and they stopped thrashing as much.”

These strategies have been developed over years of rescues on Cape Cod, one of the world’s hot spots for stranded dolphins, seals, and whales. The dolphins probably became stranded after separating from a larger group and becoming trapped in shallow water between sandbars, specialists said.

“Sometimes they get really deep into the bay or they swim up creeks, and the tide fluctuations are so pronounced here in Cape Cod that they can’t find their way out,” Booth said.

The IFAW responds to 300 to 500 marine mammal strandings each year, but a simultaneous stranding of five dolphins is uncommon.

Catalina Gaitan can be reached at catalina.gaitan@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter at @catalina_gaitan.
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