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Keeping Your Blowhole Above Water

Written by Britta Dornfeld, AmeriCorps Member placed at the Massachusetts Alternative Septic Systems Testing Center.

December 17, 2015, had been rainy and cool. I’d been outside taking water measurements all day with my Individual Placement, and the damp chill seeped into my bones. So when the call came late in the afternoon to go back outside to release dolphins five minutes after I’d finally gotten comfortable and dry, I was less than enthused.

Still, the dolphins needed help, so I headed to Scusset Beach in Sandwich to help with the evening release. Despite the unpleasant weather, the rescue organization, International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), was well prepared to keep all the AmeriCorps members helping with the release cozy, dry, and safe. As soon as we were all assembled, Jori, the AmeriCorps member placed at IFAW, got us suited up in dry suits, which reminded me of the suits that the Ghostbusters wore. Nothing, no water, no ghosts, and no sand, was going to get at me!

All the AmeriCorps rescuers in our super fancy dry suits!
All the AmeriCorps rescuers in our super fancy dry suits!

Once I got the dry suit on, my mood picked up. I was going to help release three dolphins — how many people could say they’ve done that? We prepared the beach, putting down large mats to set the dolphins on before we brought them into the sea. I couldn’t help to think how awesome this experience was as I tromped through the rain to place the mats on the dark beach.

Finally, the time came to release the dolphins. There was a single female, and what appeared to be a mother-calf pair. We placed the dolphins into special dolphin stretchers and loaded them onto custom-made dolphin carts to transport them safely and comfortably to the beach. Once the dolphins were assembled, teams were assigned to each of them and the release began. My team of eight worked with the mother dolphin. We picked up her stretcher and walked out into the ocean until we were waist deep in water. We waited, allowing her and the calf to acclimate to the water, before removing the stretcher and letting her swim away.

This is what dolphins look like pre-release. Since this rescue occurred at night, a good photo was not taken. Photo provided by IFAW, from their archives.

The most stressful part of the rescue was making sure the dolphin’s blowhole stayed above water the entire time we had her in the stretcher. Every time a wave came in, we had to lift her up to ensure her top stayed nice and dry until she acclimated and could lift her head on her own. In a way, it reminded me of my day. I’d been struggling to keep my own mood up throughout the day, but all I’d needed was help from a few friends (human and otherwise) to get my attitude back in the right place. Sometimes keeping a positive attitude about service in AmeriCorps can be difficult. When you’re struggling, you need to remember that this team of members is here with you to support you and help you keep your spirits high and dry.

            Please note all activities described in this article were conducted under a federal stranding agreement between IFAW and the National Marine Fisheries Service under the Marine Mammal Protection Act.