From the Skaket Beach parking lot, it’s difficult to tell whether the animal out on the mud flats is in trouble or already dead. But as Michael Cuoco nears the dolphin, he sees it wiggling, as if trying to swim. When he carefully steps closer, approaching the front of the creature to prevent startling and stressing it further, he hears it breathe—a sudden whoosh is expelled from its blow hole. Cuoco calls the IFAW rescue team to report his location, and explain that this dolphin is alone and healthy.
A rescue team volunteer first responder for IFAW, Cuoco gets to work making the defenseless animal more comfortable to improve its chances of surviving its wayward swim along the Orleans shore. It’s a sunny, cold day in early March, but a brisk wind has kicked up sand that blows in the dolphin’s eyes. Cuoco pours water over them to clear them. He digs into the mud to give the pectoral flippers some room and allow the dolphin to breathe more easily, and he shoos away the scavenging sea gulls that try and peck at its eyes for an afternoon snack.
“I just kind of sat with it,” Cuoco recalls a few weeks later. “It was wonderful for me, but hard for the dolphin. It was just waiting for the next step.” When the rescue team arrives from Yarmouthport, members assess the animal’s health, looking for lesions, drawing blood, and monitoring breathing. Ultrasound will eventually reveal this dolphin—a female—is past the first trimester of her pregnancy. And when she is released off Scusset Beach in Sagamore later that night, hopes are high for her survival. But the following day she turns up dead on a Dennis beach after apparently re-stranding herself.