IFAW Facility Treats First Stranded Dolphin

by Ryan Bray
The first dolphin treated at IFAW’s new Orleans facility is cared for in one of the facility’s tanks. IFAW PHOTO The first dolphin treated at IFAW’s new Orleans facility is cared for in one of the facility’s tanks. IFAW PHOTO

ORLEANS – Five months after opening its doors, the International Fund For Animal Welfare brought its first patient into its new dolphin rescue center on Route 6A last weekend.

The 4,200-square-foot facility, which includes two large rehabilitation pools as well as a veterinary laboratory, opened at 115 Route 6A in October. The facility, the only one of its kind on the eastern seaboard north of Florida, allows the nonprofit to better treat and rehabilitate stranded dolphins that wash up on the shores of the Cape’s beaches.

Brian Sharp, director of IFAW’s marine mammal rescue and research team, said the nonprofit had gotten a report Saturday night of three dolphins stuck far out in the Brewster Flats. One of those dolphins was attended to Sunday on Seaway Road, he said.

“When our volunteers arrived, this animal that ended up becoming the first patient was actually being rolled in the surf,” he said. “Our volunteers had to right him, because he was upside down in the surf.”

Sharp said the 150-pound dolphin was brought by stretcher into Moby, the nonprofit’s mobile clinic, where efforts to treat the animal began en route to the nearby Orleans facility. At the same time, staff were called in to the rescue facility to attend to the animal.

In Orleans, a blood sample was taken and the dolphin was given IV fluids before being transferred to one of the rehabilitation pools. The animal also was weighed and given an ultrasound.

Access to the new facility gave IFAW staff and volunteers more options for treating the dolphin than they had previously, Sharp said. In a statement, the nonprofit said about a third of the dolphins it responds to annually could benefit from treatment that the facility can provide.

“Usually we have to make a decision within a few minutes of ‘OK, are we going to try and release you,’” he said. “Because of that weather Sunday, we didn’t have a release option.”

The dolphin was in the facility for about 24 hours, and Sharp said the animal’s condition started showing signs of improvement by midnight Sunday. On Monday, the animal was taken to Herring Cove, where it was safely released.

“The winds with the storm clocked around,” he said. “We had winds out of the northeast at Herring Cove, and then it became doable because we had an offshore wind.”

IFAW officials in October said they anticipate about 12 patients a year at the new facility. But Sharp said it’s been a difficult start to 2024, noting that the nonprofit had a few “near admits” earlier this year that ultimately died before they could be treated.

“I think we all thought that the first patient was going to happen at the end of January or February,” he said. “So we were a little surprised that it happened in March, but every year’s different. It depends on how the animals are moving, utilizing the coastal resources. The weather does play a big factor in this.”

On Tuesday, staff had a debriefing to go over the case, both in terms of what went well and what can be improved upon. But looking back, Sharp said “everything happened as it should” regarding the facility’s inaugural treatment.

“I’m really happy with how things went with the first case,” he said. “Everything worked, people were able to adapt. We got a huge response from our volunteers. They were incredible. Not surprised, but it was still great to see.”

Email Ryan Bray at ryan@capecodchronicle.com