Jan. 4, 2007— -- With large schools of dolphins feeding in waters near the Cape, and a full-moon high tide flooding the marshes, rescuers are hoping they don't see a repeat of last year.
''It's very reminiscent of last January, where we had 100 (dolphins strand) in the first week of 2006,'' said Sarah Herzig, the stranding coordinator for the Cape Cod Stranding Network.
Two more dead dolphins were found yesteday, one in Orleans at Rock Harbor, and another in Brewster off Linnell Landing. Another dead dolphin was found Tuesday night on Skaket Beach in Orleans. All were common dolphins, the same species that has been stranding on Cape Cod Bay beaches since Friday.
A total of 17 dolphins have come ashore so far, with eight of them either dead or in such poor condition that they had to be euthanized by rescuers.
The stranding network was founded in 1998 to coordinate volunteers who attempted to help the hundreds of marine mammals that strand themselves on Cape Cod beaches annually. The Cape's hook shape, combined with a labyrinth of sandbars and marshes, can confuse and trap animals, especially if they are sick or disoriented.
New England Aquarium veterinarian Connie Merigo said aerial surveys last week showed a school of 1,000 common dolphins in the vicinity of Stellwagen Bank, just a half-day's swim into Cape Cod Bay.
Another large pod of around 100 Atlantic white-sided dolphins was also recently spotted off Naushon in the Elizabeth Islands chain in Nantucket Sound. Dolphins could swim farther to shore as full-moon high tides this week allow them to chase prey deep into the marshes along Cape Cod Bay.
''We're on alert,'' said Herzig.
Dolphins that come ashore can be sick or have parasites, or they can be healthy and have lost their way. Once exposed on the tidal flats they can suffer from wind burn, hypothermia, and be injured by scavenging birds or predators.
A team of specialists from the New England Aquarium, the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution and Marine Biological Laboratory were conducting necropsies in Woods Hole on some of the dead dolphins to determine their health and any cause for their stranding.
Doug Fraser covers the environment and fishing industry for the Cape Cod Times.