New map of the stranded dolphins' locations

Hi all,

It's been a very busy time for us in the field and in the sea turtle clinic. As a result, I have not had a chance to post another map until now. We had an exciting week monitoring these animals. First and foremost, they both seem to be doing very well. (Read about efforts to rescue these dolphins from a mass stranding on Cape Cod here.)

We had the very good fortune of a live sighting of one of animals on two occasions. The animal that has been using the waters in and around Cape Cod Bay and Stellwagen Bank was sighted by the Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies and the IFAW teams. We have received photos of the sightings, which I hope to post tomorrow.

Below is a map created by Kerry Lagueux. You can see that dolphin #63 has gone out and around the hook of Provincetown. If the animal stays in that area we may have luck with additional sightings. Animal #62 has traveled great distances and is now far offshore off the coast of Delaware.



A seal in Winthrop causes a stir.

Hello Folks,

Today we responded to a seal in Winthrop...twice!

Kerry and Ulrika were in Winthrop responding to a dead porpoise when we received a report of a live seal not far away. They took a drive over to check out the seal and found a plump little harp seal resting on the beach. The animal did not have any obvious life threatening injuries so they took took some photos, reviewed the case with the Winthrop Animal Control Officer, who was on site with them, and headed to the next call.

Below are two photos Kerry and Ulrika took of the seal in the late morning. As you can see in the photo on the left the animal is resting on it's back with not a care in the world. In the photo on the right the animal shows his alertness after responding to a noise off shore.

Unfortunately, some well meaning citizens panicked that the seal was out of the water. One citizen even went so far as to take a bucket he found on the beach and pour water on the seal. For those of you who follow this blog, you know that seals are a Federally protected species and that even approaching a seal is illegal. (Read about the Marine Mammal Protection Act in previous blog entries here and here.) In addition to the citizen who poured water on it, other citizens went to the fish market and purchased a bag of fish, which they planned to feed to the seal. Luckily for both the citizens and the seal, the Harbor Master and the Animal Control Officer were back on scene and put a stop to the illegal feeding session that was about to ensue. After a number of people harassed this animal despite our best efforts to educate them over the phone, we went back out to check the animal.

In the photo below, Kerry and I do a close approach to examine this seal. We are able to do a close approach on this animal because the Aquarium Rescue Department holds a Federal permit for marine mammal stranding response and rehabilitation. People reported seeing blood on this animal, however all we found was a few minor scratches associated with the nail beds on the front flipper and a scratch on the back of the neck. Neither were of any medical concern. As you can see the seal is alert and agitated by our approach, one of the reasons why a permit is necessary. Because seals are wild animals, they are unpredictable and will bite if threatened, hence the protective herding board we have with us.

The number of people harassing this animal concerned us. For the safety of the animal we decided to kennel it and move it to a quiet beach were it could get the rest it needed. Seals are semi aquatic and need to spend a certain amount of time resting on shore or rocky ledges. We tend to see prolonged resting periods by the youngsters especially after a storm like the Nor'easter we had recently.

In the photos we herded the seal using protective boards into the kennel. We cover the kennels for the trip up to the truck to minimize stress for the animal.

The photo below shows the fish that were purchased by a citizen in hopes of feeding the seal. Seals won't eat dead fish, they eat prey items that are live and swimming. These fish would have rotted on the beach or someone would have received a serious and painful bite.

The photo below shows the bucket that was used by a man on the beach to pour water on the seal. If you click on the photo below to enlarge it, you will see that this bucket was used to store hydraulic oil. I examined the bucket and found a thick coat of sludge-like material in the bottom of the bucket. Not only was the act of pouring water on the animal illegal, it could have seriously harmed the animal as well. Before we released the animal I checked its eyes and examined it's mucus membranes for signs of irritation from the material in the bucket.

The photos below show us at the final release beach, as you can see it was dark by the time we got there. You will notice a large orange dot on the back of the seal. I put that marking on the seal with a cattle marking stick so we will know if this animal comes back up on the beach. We released the animal on the beach and then quietly backed off and departed. I did not want to put the seal in the water since it came up to rest but didn't get any with all the activity and harassment.

We left the seal resting comfortably on the release beach. I'll go back at first light to check to see if it is still there and do another visual assessment of it's activity level, alertness and body condition. Harp seals typically rest on the beach for 3-4 days before heading back into the water. They do not need food or water during that time and do just fine out of water.

We did collect the bucket and will turn that over to federal law enforcement officials. The Aquarium's role is limited to rescue and rehabilitation and associated activities. We are not involved in law enforcement activities, however we are obligated through our permit to collect evidence in law enforcement cases and turn it over to NOAA law enforcement agents.

PARTING THOUGHTS: This is important please read.
It is never a good idea to try to approach, feed, or touch any wild animal. Wild animals, including seals, carry diseases that can be transmitted from them to humans. If you find a wild animal and are unsure what to do, the best thing to do is contact the appropriate authorities for information. I recommend starting with your local Animal Control Officers. These are trained experts with knowledge of local species and connections to other wildlife experts for unusual cases. Here are some more tips on what to do if you encounter a stranded marine animal.

Special thanks to the Winthrop Animal Control Officer and Harbor Master and the MA Environmental Police for their help with this case.


The harp seal made news, read a brief summary of events on WBZtv.com. Check out our video of a successful seal rescue earlier this winter! You'll notice the herding boards and kennel.


Beautiful map of dolphins' movements!

Hi Everyone,

Below is another map of the tagged dolphins from the mass stranding event in Wellfleet last Thursday. I am very encouraged to see that #63, the animal that rode out the storm in Cape Cod Bay, is now beginning to move around a little more. His minimal movements and localized behavior was interesting and may have been a sign of a slow recovery. It also could have been any number of things, but that would be high on my list of suspicions.

Number 62 continues to hover offshore heading in the direction of Georges Bank. To date, #62 has traveled more then twice the distance traveled by #63. #62 has demonstrated a significant energy output to travel the distance he traveled after a stranding event.

Enjoy this beautiful map created by our GIS expert, Kerry Lagueux. You will notice that he inserted a key for you in the bottom left corner of the map.

The days ahead will be fascinating to observe the behavior of these two animals. I hope they will eventually join up but only time will tell. Would be fun to start a pool of when it might happen and in what region...is that legal?? I'm sure I'll be hearing from our council about that statement!

- Connie

Follow the dolphins' movement in the last week with recent blog posts here, here and here!

Also, you might be interested to see a video about last week's rescue efforts put together by our rescue partners at IFAW. Check it out here.



Map of the released dolphins

Hi all,

I have to work fast since the power has been flickering on and off. This will be a short blog, I'll catch you up in more detail tomorrow. Below is a map of the dolphin locations for today, March 15. Dolphin #63 remains inside Cape Cod Bay while #62 had moved farther east on the outside of the Cape. (You can clearly see how far #62 has traveled by looking at an early map here. These data came in soon after the dolphins were released following a mass stranding event.)

I am relieved they are both still transmitting, that is a good sign. We still have some hurdles to overcome but we'll view those over the next several days. Weather is supposed to improve so that will be in their favor.

Have a great evening!

- Connie



Updated Dolphin Locations for 3.14.10

Hi all,

The white-sided dolphins appear to be on the move. I have prepared a new map with the satellite locations from yesterday and the new data received earlier today (below). As you will see in the map, it does look like the two tagged dolphins have split up. As you may recall, the animals were released as part of a group of six on Friday night. Three additional animals were released by the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) team on Saturday afternoon from the same release location. One of the three animals released on Saturday is also carrying a satellite tag, placed by the IFAW team.

On the map #62 or #63 are followed by a dash and the date that location data was received. All of the plots in yellow are for animal #63 while the plots in purple are for #62. As you can see #62 has made it outside the tip of Cape Cod while #62 remains inside the bay.

I have been in communication with IFAW and there is a chance (keep in mind there is a margin of error in the location data from the satellite) that one of the tagged animals from Friday may have joined with the tagged animal from Saturday. The next several days will be very important and should shed light on this.

There are many reasons why these animals would split up. There isn't enough space in this blog to cover them all. White-sided dolphins can travel in pods of up to about 1,000 animals. Foraging as a group that size isn't a good survival strategy so they may split up in to sub-groups for foraging. I am not at all suggesting that this small group split up to forage, I am only providing an example of why social species of dolphins may split up. We shall learn a great deal more in the days and weeks ahead.

The fact that they are moving is a very good sign and gives me encouragement. I'm not only concerned about the dolphin's ability to recover from the stress of the stranding event and loss of pod mates, but they also have this weather on top of all that. They will be using more energy output and may have additional obstacles in communicating in turbulent seas. It will be a stressful wait and see game until the new location data come in the morning.

Our first attempt at moving the dolphins on Thursday.

You all have been very supportive and caring with your comments on previous posts (here and here) and on the Aquarium's facebook fan page. Someone at my stranding site suggested that these animals should be humanely euthanized. I assessed them and, under the direction of our veterinarians, did make that decision for one who had gone into shock. The others had not and I thought with the proper supportive care by trained people that the remaining animals had a good chance of survival.

I never want an animal to suffer, that's the bottom line. I also see it as my job to know enough about cetacean (family including whales, dolphins and porpoise) biology, physiology, health and behavior to know what levels of stress they can handle. These animals are chased by predators, battered by larger dolphins, survive fairly traumatic injuries and brutal storms, all which elicit the stress response and they somehow survive. They are equipped to manage some levels of stress and trauma, it's just difficult to be the person on the beach to decide when they have reached the point of no return. I prefer to give an animal a chance if there isn't enough evidence to the contrary. The tag data for me will help me decide if I made the right decision. Until we get several more days of data, I won't be resting easy.

- Connie


Mass Dolphin Stranding - Update and Tracking

Hi Everyone,

Those of you following the blog have read about the mass stranding of white-sided dolphins on Cape Cod on Thursday. Friday proved to be another busy in the field again for the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) team. They responded to three more live dolphins on Friday, all three were rescued and released. On Saturday one animal was found dead; no additional live animals were found stranded.

As I mentioned in my last post, Kate and I satellite tagged two of the dolphins released on Friday night. Since then we have been tracking their movements. One of the main reasons we started this satellite tag project was to determine weather or not the animals survived after a stranding event, rescue, transport and then beach release. Added up, each of these steps in a rescue is very stressful for the animals involved. We needed some way to determine if our efforts were successful or if the dolphins swam off shore and died with hours or days. The project is complicated. The process of selecting an animal to tag is key, and depends on the level or stress and trauma (that will be another post in itself). In short, it appears that the animals we selected for the satellite tags can survive, at least so far in this study.

In the photo below, Kate is double checking the tag stability prior to releasing the animal. The tag is placed on the dorsal fin with the antennae facing forward.

The photo below shows a close up of the tag. These tags are quite small, weighing somewhere roughly between 60-100 grams. A numbing agent, similar to what you would receive for oral surgery or other short medical procedures is applied to the fin before tag application. The tag site is also thoroughly disinfected prior to the tag application.

In this photo, the animal is being lifted for the final journey into the water. You can see the tag on the dorsal fin if you enlarge the photo.

Okay so now, we track the dolphins from our computers (more on how this works later, lets just get to the good stuff!)

Kate created the map below on Friday morning using the satellite data we received on that morning. The dolphins left the release site, which was in the middle of the west facing side of the hook at the end of Provincetown (see plot on next map) and were staying about 5 to 7 miles off shore in the general area. As I stated in my last entry, it will take some time for them to recover and regroup, and regain their full strength.

I created the map below yesterday based on Saturday's satellite tag. All the points in yellow are one animal and all the points in purple are the other tagged dolphin. The tags do not transmit at exactly the same time (they will transmit when the dolphins surface to breath, which is not expected to be at the same time). As a result these animals could actually be closer together then what appears on this map.

I began working with the satellite date from this morning but need more time to produce a map of the dolphin locations so far today. I'll do that in the next few hours and blog with another map of today's locations.

The stormy weather and high wind warnings are not great for a group of stressed dolphins that just experienced a traumatic stranding and a stressful day of handling. I'm not sure how this will effect them, but it most certainly is not helping mattes. I'll talk more about that with the next map.

- Connie



Mass dolphin stranding on Cape Cod

Hi all,

It's been a while since I've blogged, apparently I was saving myself for a big event! Yesterday we responded to a mass dolphin stranding on Cape Cod. A total of 16 dolphins were stranded at two different locations in Wellfleet, on the Cape. Our Rescue partners at the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) contacted us and asked for assistance. They dispatched us to Lieutentant Island, where there were six dolphins stranded on the mud flats. The mud was soft and dangerous. It proved to be a safety issue for the rescuers and made movement very difficult. It also hampered the rapid collection and movement of these very large animals.

Below is a photo taken just as we arrived at the dolphins. Five dolphins (four alive and one dead) were located together and one smaller dolphin was left on the mud about 40 yards away.

In the Photo Below Kerry McNally listens to the heartbeat of the dolphin that was away from the rest of the group. I left Kerry in charge of performing a health assessment on this animal so I could determine the best course of action for the overall situation.

Below was our first attempt at moving one of the dolphins. It was dangerous as the rescuers were getting stuck in the mud and falling as were were moving the animal. We put dolphin stretchers over the mud to help give the rescuers purchase in the mud, but we did not have enough stretchers or rescuers. I called IFAW and told them the situation and asked for more help. They were just finishing up at the other location and sent a team and more stretchers to help.

In the photo below, you can see three live dolphins upright in the mud waiting quietly while we moved the first one to solid ground. The dolphin in the background was dead when we arrived to the beach. Normally I would have assigned a team to move the dead dolphin out of sight of the live animals, however the noise and commotion we would have caused moving it in this mud would have put further stress on the live animals and I could not take that chance. In stranded dolphins, stress is everything. Simply put, prolonged stress will eventually lead to system failure and death. In the photo on the right you can see that the dead dolphin was not right next to the live animals so I decided it was not worth the risk to move it.

The small animal that was found farther away from the others was alert and active. Due to the difficulty in moving in this mud, I decided to leave this animal where it was and move it only once when more help arrived with more equipment to aid in crossing the mud. In the photo, the animal is on the mud several feet in front of the two volunteers. The animal was in a good position so I asked the volunteers to monitor it from a few feet away. Wild dolphins do not respond well to human touch, it causes something called a startle reflex and increases stress. Unless the animal needs direct support, I usually ask my team to monitor and only touch when necessary.

Once more help arrived we moved the smaller animal next to one of the larger animals while other teams transported the other dolphins across the flats to the waiting truck. In the photo on the left you can see Kerry taking a respiration (counting number of breaths per minute for each animal - respiration rates and characteristics tell us a lot about stress levels in dolphins) from a short distance. The dolphins were protected from the elements from the sheets and blankets and did not require direct hands on at this point. I knew they were in for a lot of handling and stress with the collection, trip across the mud to the truck, the drive to the release site, the move from the truck to the beach and finally their entrance into the water for release. That's a lot of handling for a stressed animal that has most likely never seen a human before.

Unfortunately, the very fist animal we moved began to show outward signs of advanced stress. We made him as comfortable as possible and kept the environment around him quiet and motion free. Despite our best efforts in supportive care, the animal continued to decline and went into shock. Once shock sets in, there is little we can do in a field situation to relieve suffering, as a result the decision was made to euthanize the animal.

We were able to transport the remaining live animals to the release site where we met up with another team of rescuers who had another two animals. Two animals were selected to carry satellite tags. Kate Sardi and I applied the tags while the other animals were being moved out of the trailers and down to the beach.

We received our first set of data from the satellite tags early this morning. I will be blogging on the satellite tag project next. The most critical time for these animals is the next 72 hours while they recover from the trauma of the stranding and the stress of the transport. These animals are also part of a smaller pod now since several of their pod mates died. What effect that will have on them we do not know.

- Connie

(Aquarium spokesperson Tony LaCasse explains why dolphins strand in this WCVBtv video and this WHDH video. Learn more about mass strandings from previous posts about the Northeast Region Stranding Network, the humpback whale rescue effort and what not to do if you come across a seal on a beach.)


Tuzigoot acupuncture on video!

Tuzigoot (#113), one of our Kemp's ridley sea turtles, had another round of acupuncture in the Aquarium Medical Center yesterday. In the video you can see the needles at different points that are used to help stimulate the muscle in the jaw. Then acupuncturist Claire Mcmanus palpates and massages the turtle.

Upon being returned to the water by Erin, a rescue team member, you can see how wide the turtle is able to open its mouth in order to eat a squid ring. Up until about a week ago this turtle was only able to eat guts of squid and fish by "sucking" it in through an opening about 3 cm wide between the upper and lower jaw.

As long as the turtle is able to continue to eat well, the outlook is very good!

(Read the previous post about Tuzigoot's acupuncture here!)


On Pins & Needles: Sea Turtle Acupuncture

One of our turtles, #113(Tuzigoot) is still listed as one of our critical animals. The turtle is having difficulties opening its jaw wide enough to consume food. Upon initial assessment by X-rays and palpation nothing abnormal was found.

So, with no conclusive reasons for the lack of ability to open the beak Dr. Innis scheduled other diagnostics including inviting licensed Acupuncturist Claire Mcmanus to look at our turtle. In addition to doing human acupuncture Claire also has done work with the animals at the Franklin Park Zoo.

In the photo above you can see Claire applying an acupuncture needles.
After three sessions with Claire. Along with an MRI and a biopsy of the muscle that assists in closing the jaw. The turtle is starting to turn the corner and is able to open its beak wider and wider.

Watching the turtle relax as the needles do their work!

We are expecting several more sessions of acupuncture in the weeks to come.