Animal conservationists in Massachusetts have rescued 10 Risso's dolphins that got stranded in a local harbor at the beginning of the year.
Members of the nonprofit group International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) responded to reports on Sunday, Jan. 1, about dolphins having been spotted in Wellfleet Harbor.
At first, residents reported that there were three dolphins swimming in the harbor, but by the time the rescuers arrived, they discovered that there were actually more of the marine mammals.
IFAW spokeswoman Kerry Branon said the animals may have been trying to catch some prey, leading them to get closer to the shore.
According to Branon, rescuers tried to herd the dolphins using boats so that they could lead the animals back to open waters. When the tide went out, however, the dolphins suddenly found themselves stuck in a portion of the harbor.
The rescuers then decided to enter the cold, muddy water, so that they could safely move the animals out of their predicament. Each one of the dolphins was placed on a stretcher then transported on trucks using special carts.
Some of the Risso's dolphins were so large that it took 15 rescuers just to move them from the harbor and into the vehicles.
"They are pretty big, and really quite heavy," Branon said. "It's a massive undertaking, 10 dolphins."
Branon added that this was the largest stranding of dolphins that they have responded to.
Before this, the IFAW had rescued another group of dolphins that became stranded in a cove close to Chequessett Neck Road in September.
After securing the Risso's dolphins on the transport trucks, they were then taken to Corn Hill Beach in Truro, where they were set free in the ocean. The rescuers believe the favorable winds in the area will help the animals find their way back into open waters.
Branon said the rescue teams received much helped from residents and local authorities in saving the stranded dolphins. Some even handed out mugs of hot cocoa to the rescuers so that they could make it through the cold winter day.
Risso's dolphins took their name after Niçard naturalist Giuseppe Antonio Risso. Risso was the first to provide a description of the animals to the public.
While some people also refer to the dolphins as grampus, this name is more often associated with their fellow marine mammals, the orcas.
Male and female Risso's are known to reach lengths of up to 8.5 feet to 13 feet (2.6 to 4 meters) and weigh between 660 to 1,100 pounds (300 to 500 kilograms).
These dolphins have a bulbous head with a vertical crease, and a beak that isn't easily distinguishable. They also have a long, sickle-shaped dorsal fin found in the middle of their backs.
Adult Risso's can be differentiated from other dolphin species through their pale gray skin and the heavy scarring on their bodies. These dolphins often end up in tussles with others of their kind and with lampreys and cookie-cutter sharks, which serve as their prey.
Despite not being considered an endangered species, Risso's dolphins are still protected through the Marine Mammal Protection Act.