Dolphin Beaches Itself At Surf Drive
By: Brent Runyon
A common dolphin died on Surf Drive Beach in Falmouth on Friday afternoon.
The male dolphin was spotted swimming in the shallow water near the Fresh River herring run around 2:30 PM. It beached itself and then died less than an hour later.
Barbara P. Schneider of Sandcastle Drive, East Falmouth, a volunteer with the International Fund for Animal Welfare’s marine mammal rescue and research, was the first rescuer on the scene.
“I watched it struggling in the surf and then it swam right up onto the shore,” she said.
Dr. Schneider provided supportive care as the animal died. She kept it upright and in the water to remove as much pressure from its internal organs. “I tried to keep its eyes clear of sand,” she said.
Charles T. Harry, assistant stranding coordinator for IFAW out of Yarmouthport, formerly the Cape Cod Stranding Network, arrived with an animal rescue trailer about one hour after the dolphin was first spotted.
“The dolphin was showing external signs of internal stress,” Mr. Harry said.
He said the dolphin was thrashing its tail violently and he could feel the internal organs spasm as it died.
If it had not died so quickly, they would have euthanized it, he said.
Cars were parked along Surf Drive and in the parking lot at Mill Road as passersby stopped to catch a glimpse of the dolphin. Some used their cellphones to take photographs of the rescue effort.
They took the dolphin to the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, where they performed a diagnostic necropsy to determine the cause of death. The necropsy showed no obvious reason for the death, but did provide a more detailed analysis of its health, Mr. Harry said. Enlarged lymph nodes indicated that the dolphin was fighting an infection when it died. It was slightly smaller than a typical male, which led Mr. Harry to originally believe that it was a juvenile. There was a small amount of squid beaks in the stomach. Blood analysis showed that “the kidney functions were a little off,” he said.
The only precise way to determine a dolphin’s age, he said, is to saw a tooth lengthwise and count the growth rings, similar to the method of determining the age of a tree.
Dr. Schneider said dolphins are social animals and normally swim in groups, but this one appeared to be alone.
In her nine years of marine mammal rescue, Dr. Schneider said she has never seen a dolphin on the Vineyard Sound side. “It’s very unusual,” she said. “Their food source is on the Buzzards Bay side.”
Dolphin strandings are more common on the Outer Cape in the Wellfleet and Truro area, while seal strandings are more common in Falmouth.
In March, a group of six dolphins was spotted in Quissett Harbor. Later, one dolphin was found dead off Gansett Point, Woods Hole. In May, another severely decomposed dolphin was found in Quissett Harbor. Dr. Schneider said at the time the dolphins were likely together, and the second dolphin washed ashore later.
In the event of a marine mammal in distress, call IFAW’s hotline number, 508-743-9548.
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