More than 100 dolphins have beached themselves in Cape Cod, Massachusetts this winter, and no one knows why.
In the northeastern United States, it’s normal for about 230 animals to beach themselves over the course of a year. But this year, 129 common dolphins have been found on Cape Cod beaches in the past month.
Examinations of the dolphins haven’t found any sign of illness or injury, adding to the mystery. Beaching or “stranding” happens when an animal gets trapped in shallow water and can’t swim back out to the ocean. This can be caused by disorientation from an unfamiliar landscape, loud noises, illness, or more. Because dolphins form strong bonds, they may follow each other and become stranded in groups.
One factor in Cape Cod might be an unseasonably warm winter, which kept the harbor free from ice and open to wandering dolphins. Combined with the geography of the Cape Cod harbor area—much shallower and confined than the open ocean—and dolphins’ habits of sticking close to their family members, these dolphins could easily find themselves in trouble.
The International Fund for Animal Welfare has been working to save the stranded dolphins and discover the cause of the mass stranding. To date they have been able to release 37 of the stranded dolphins back into the water.
Mass strandings are mysterious events. We may never know the cause, but we hope it comes to an end soon.