Unlike seals which are semi-aquatic and often rest on the beach, a dolphin on land is in immediate need of assistance. When we get a call for a live dolphin, we automatically pack our gear and head out to the scene. If it is a far distance, we'll have one of our field volunteers go out to provide supportive care to the animal while we are in route. This case happened to be in Quincy, near our Animal Care Center, so we were there in no time.
As we were driving to the scene we spotted the animal from the road. Immediately we noticed it was not a porpoise, but a juvenile Atlantic white-sided dolphin. This changed our approach for many reasons. First of all, white-sided dolphins are larger than porpoises, so usually involves a larger team. They are also a social species, so an animal that strands alone is not a rehab or release candidate because they cannot survive without its social group. We also noticed seagulls already pecking at the animal.
The above photo is an Atlantic white-sided dolphin that stranded in Duxbury last week.
We also faced another challenge with this rescue: mud, and lots of it [similar to this March 2010 rescue effort]. The dolphin was stranded on a mud flat making it quite a journey to get out to the animal. After getting stuck a few times, we made it out to the dolphin. We were able to get the seagulls away, but they had already done damage to the blowhole. The animal was in a great deal of stress from the stranding event. We did our initial exam and collected blood to be analyzed.
Above: We made it out to the dolphin and prepared to draw blood on the animal.
I had called Adam to bring us some more stretchers and a sled to pull the animal across the mud in. Adam was a trooper and came to our rescue.
Based on the results of our exam, blood work, and the fact that the social needs of this animal could not be met, we elected to humanely euthanize this animal. Although euthanasia is always a difficult decision, it was in the best interest of this animal. The rescue team performed a necropsy on the animal the next day in order to determine the cause of the stranding. There was nothing obvious to determine the cause on gross exam, and pathology is pending. Even though the cause of stranding remains unclear, the damage from the gulls during the stranding event and the fact that it stranded alone were the reasons euthanasia was the best option in this case.
Our way back to dry land with the dolphin carcass was adventurous. Our necropsy coordinater Katie and intern Kelly were laying out stretchers for Adam and I to walk over while pulling this 100+ pound carcass across the mud. We had to make the most of a difficult situation, and watching Katie fall in the mud definitely helped.
You can read more on what to do when you find a stranded marine animal on the beach here. A special thanks to the Quincy Police Department for reporting this animal so quickly!