The Stranding Mystery

Why are dolphins stranding on Cape Cod beaches?

Evolution: fish walking out of the water

When I hear about strandings, my imagination seems to take me to the evolutionary image of sea animals turning into land animals.  I have a cartoon in my mind of fish “walking” out of the water.  Are these dolphins trying to leave the ocean for land?  I guess not… 

Close to 200 dolphins have become stranded along the beaches of Cape Cod Bay this winter in what is turning out to be the largest ever mass standing for the area.


Despite rescue efforts most die.  About 30% are successful released in deeper waters.  Scientists do not know why it’s happening.  Dolphins are extremely social and swim in pods of up to several hundred.  Perhaps they all follow one that is in trouble.

Mud-flats in Brewster

Certainly a contributing factor is the shallow water of Cape Cod Bay.  In fact it is one of the top locations worldwide for marine mammal strandings.  You can walk out for what seems like miles and still be just knee deep in water.  The difference in the shoreline from low tide to high tide is vast.  This makes the water recede quickly and perhaps the dolphins are getting tripped up by this.  Another factor may be that the water is 2 degrees Celsius warmer this winter.  Maybe this is contributing to the dolphins becoming disoriented.

It is so sad to see these beautiful mammals in trouble.  Most beached dolphins die because they can’t regulate their body temperature out of water.  They also have other difficulties on land like pressure on organs and their own weight making it difficult to breathe.

The rescue effort is being carried out by the International Fund for Animal Welfare and you can find more info on their website.

Additional source: Cape Cod Times

Have you seen the movie Dolphin Tale?  It’s based on a true story about a rescued dolphin with an amputated fin who is fitted with a prosthetic one!  It’s a great family movie and very inspirational!

Children’s books about evolution…

Our Family Tree: An Evolution Story by Lisa Westberg Peters and illustrated by Lauren Stringer

All of us are part of an old, old family. The roots of our family tree reach back millions of years to the beginning of life on earth. Open this family album and embark on an amazing journey. You’ll meet some of our oldest relatives–from both the land and the sea–and discover what we inherited from each of them along the many steps of our wondrous past.
Complete with an illustrated timeline and glossary, here is the story of human evolution as it’s never been told before (Amazon description).

Life on Earth: The Story of Evolution by Steve Jenkins

There are millions of different kinds of plants and animals living on the earth. Many millions more lived here in the past. Where did they all come from? Why have some become extinct and others lived on?

In this remarkable book for children, Steve Jenkins explores the fascinating history of life on earth and the awe-inspiring story of evolution, Charles Darwin’s great contribution to modern science Amazon description).

Older than The Stars by Karen C. Fox

How old are you?–Older than you think. In a way, we are all as old as the universe itself. In fact, every bit of every one of us was created in the Big Bang, billions of years ago.

Stunning illustrations and lively verse tell the story of the cosmic connections that tie human beings to the beginning of the universe. Simple, informative prose provides additional facts (Amazon description).

* * * 

Later in the season we happened upon one of these poor dolphins decomposing.  To see a respectful photo see Field Trip.


I'm a practical mom inspired by nature & I enjoy sharing ideas that encourage kids' innate curiosity & creativity. Interested in subscribing? Check out the blue box at the top of my sidebar. I'm also a wannabe author/illustrator & product designer by day. Let's connect! If you purchase through my Amazon links I get a small commission at no additional cost to you (thanks for supporting Doodles and Jots)! And remember to always credit your source here & elsewhere on the internet.


  1. Love the idea of the kids’ book about evolution. I can’t believe that is all happening with the dolphins. Honestly, I didn’t know dolphins headed that far north to begin with.

    My daughter loved Dolphin Tale, and my mother lives near Clearwater, so she is SOOO excited to head down there for a visit and go check out the rehab center!

    • I honestly didn’t either until this started happening. I wonder why you can see them swimming in FLA but they stay out of view here…

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