Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Pod of dolphins stranded by low tide

Yesterday's low tide left a trapped pod of 11 common dolphins swimming in circles inside Barnstable Harbor.

On the springlike afternoon, the harborside pier was an impromptu aquarium, with mammal models offering a watery show for a curious crowd of onlookers.
First spotted in the late morning, the dolphins apparently entered the harbor during high tide and were trapped when the waters receded.

''It doesn't look like a very serious situation so far,'' Janet Valente of the Cape Cod Stranding Network said at around 3 p.m.

Perhaps a bit confused, the dolphins did not appear injured, and at times, even seemed playful as children pointed and camera shutters clicked. The dolphins had plenty of water to safely swim in while waiting for the tides to switch, Valente said.

But, she added, it wasn't an everyday scene.

At the low tide's lowest point, shortly after 3 p.m., hesitant efforts by the pod to reach the ocean through the mouth of the harbor were futile, with a sandbar nearly completely blocking the pass.
Occasionally, a lead dolphin would try to guide the group out of the bind, only to spin around when the water became too shallow.

As the sun began to set, other members of the stranding network arrived. With high tide expected around 9:30 p.m., it looked like the dolphins may be resigned to wait on Mother Nature.
If the dolphins didn't swim free on their own, the stranding network was considering a plan to launch a boat equipped with ''pingers,'' devices that use a high frequency acoustic signal to herd the mammals in a certain direction.

Dick Rudders, a Barnstable resident of more than 30 years, paced the pier watching the pod somewhat quizzically.

''Every once in a while, something happens around here,'' Rudders said. ''But this is a little surprising.''

Quick "Facts about Dolphins"