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Cape Cod dolphin strandings keep rescuers working overtime

Staff and volunteers from the International Fund for Animal Welfare's Marine Mammal Rescue and Research team try to rescue  and release stranded dolphins on Cape Cod. Msnbc.com's David Friedman reports.

Marine wildlife experts are at a loss to explain this winter’s unprecedented mass stranding of dolphins on the shores of Massachusetts' Cape Cod.

Volunteers on Tuesday helped refloat 10 more dolphins that were found in a muddy area commonly known as “the gut,” near the Herring River in the town of Wellfleet. An 11th dolphin died.  On Monday, volunteers had rescued three other dolphins in the same vicinity, cared for them for several hours and successfully released them back into open water in Bourne, 52 miles away, an effort chronicled in the video above.

Those releases bring to 177 the total number of dolphins that have been stranded since Jan. 12, said Kerry Branon of the International Fund for Animal Welfare, which is helping with the rescue effort. More than 100 have died.

Strandings during this time of year are not unusual on the shores of Cape Cod. But the magnitude of this season’s strandings is unprecedented, wildlife officials say. 

Misty Niemeyer, of IFAW's Marine Mammal Rescue and Research team, says of this winter's spate of strandings, “our staff’s getting a little tired and little weary, and unfortunately it doesn’t look like it’s going to slow down at any point. We’ve had live animal strandings almost every day for the last week at least, and almost every day, or every other day, for the last month. So there really isn’t any sign of it slowing down yet.”

Branon, for her part, said that it’s the largest dolphin stranding in the Northeast, going by National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration records, which date back about 20 years.

She said her organization could find no explanation for this year’s rise in mass strandings.

The race is on to save a record number of dolphins stranded on the shore. NBC's Anne Thompson reports.

“We’re not ruling anything out. What we typically find is the animals that strand here strand for natural reasons,” she told msnbc.com.

Branon noted that dolphins are social animals, “and they stick together for better or for worse.”

“So far no patterns have emerged, but the many lab analyses will take months to complete, we may yet find one,” Katie Moore, manager of IFAW’s marine mammal rescue and research team, said in a recent blog post.

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