An unusually high number of dolphin strandings in Cape Cod, Mass., this year underscores the need for more federal fisheries funding, the head of a dolphin rescue team told lawmakers this afternoon.
Katie Moore of the International Fund for Animal Welfare said a high number of strandings can drain a nonprofit organization’s budget because of the number of rescues that have to be done and the diagnostic tests that are run afterward.
Moore, who manages the group’s marine mammal rescue and research branch, has exactly that situation on her hands. Since Jan. 12, at least 121 dolphins have been found stranded on the shores of Cape Cod, 66 of which were dead. Rescuers discovered 10 today alone in the hours before the congressional briefing.
Strandings in Cape Cod are not uncommon because of the bay’s “U” shape and shallow waters. But a typical stranding season lasts from December to March and results in about 100 dolphin strandings during the entire season. The number of strandings in the past three weeks already exceeds that. Scientists so far have been unable to determine the cause of the phenomenon.
The rescue program, which consists of six to eight full-time staffers and hundreds of volunteers, is funded by private donors and federal funds. Federal funding primarily comes from the John H. Prescott Marine Mammal Rescue Assistance Grant Program, which is offered by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Marine Fisheries Service.
The grants have been “instrumental in changing the way we do our work,” Moore said. When Moore started the program in 1998 — then known as the Cape Cod Stranding Network — it had a 14 percent success rate in returning live stranded dolphins to the oceans. Last year, the rate was 58 percent. The funds have allowed the program to buy better equipment, conduct training for volunteers and work with other programs.
The program’s budget is already tight — Moore said she has about $280,000 from three different federal grants this year — but this season’s high number of strandings will likely be a money drain. Running diagnostic tests in the past three weeks has cost between $50,000 to $60,000. And that cost does not account for payment for the staffers who have been working around the clock since the strandings began.
“This is a very small drop in the bucket of a very large federal budget,” she said. “Each grant can be no more than $100,000, but it makes a huge difference to the programs that receive them.”
But Moore’s request may fall on deaf ears in Congress, where budgetary woes are threatening funding programs across the federal government.
Democratic lawmakers from Massachusetts — Sen. John Kerry and Reps. Ed Markey and Bill Keating — called for the briefing on Capitol Hill this afternoon. Markey and Keating attended, each sharing remarks on the strandings.
“It has been a great source of concern to the people in our region,” Keating said.
Jessica Estepa, E&E reporter