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Stranded 17-foot pilot whale dies off Harding’s Beach in Chatham

A pilot whale died on Monday after it was stranded on a sandbar in Chatham.Stacey Hedman/International Fund for Animal Welfare

A 17-foot pilot whale died Monday morning after it became stranded on a sandbar off of Harding’s Beach in Chatham.

Researchers from the International Fund for Animal Welfare said they would transport the animal to the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, where they can perform a necropsy to figure out what happened to it.

Kristen Patchett, stranding coordinator for the IFAW, said the whale is believed to be an older male weighing about 4,500 pounds.

A person who was walking reported the whale at about 7 a.m. Monday, said Chatham’s assistant harbormaster, Jim Horne.

Patchett said the person believed the whale was alive at the time, but it was dead when researchers reached it shortly after.


It’s common for pilot whales to swim off Cape Cod, but unusual for them to swim alone, Patchett said. They usually travel in groups of 10 to 100.

“If it was sick, it may have been traveling alone,” Patchett said.

The stranding came after a busy week for Patchett’s team, who responded to similar incidents on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday.

Typically, strandings occur between winter and early spring, Patchett said, but summer strandings aren’t unknown.

On Thursday, researchers went to Wellfleet Harbor after someone reported four stranded dolphins, Patchett said. The IFAW team found three and recovered them. They were treated and released later that day off West Dennis Beach.

A fourth dolphin was not found.

The next day, the researchers guided 30 dolphins out of Wellfleet Harbor before low tide, Patchett said, using “acoustic deterrence” and boat maneuvers. Acoustic deterrence involves dropping a device into the ocean that emits a high-pitched signal. The boat maneuvers resemble using a dog to herd sheep, Patchett said.

On Saturday, the researchers rescued one dolphin in the harbor and recovered a smaller one that died, Patchett said. The smaller one, apparently stranded, was pushed out into the water by a citizen but was stranded again soon after.


The IFAW recommends that people do not try to rescue stranded animals themselves, Patchett said. They commonly become stranded again, often in a place where it is more difficult for researchers to assist them.

Patchett recommends standing by and calling the IFAW’s hot line at 508-743-9548.

Globe correspondent Felicia Gans contributed to this report. Dylan McGuinness can be reached at Follow him on Twitter at @DylMcGuinness.