This week on A Cape Cod Notebook, we hear from Provincetown resident Dennis Minsky, who shares his experience saving a life.
I am blessed. If I catalogue the positive experiences of the last week, there would be more than a handful: frolicking with my young grandchildren, reading a toddler to sleep, walking in communion with my dog on the tidal flats, watching a sunset, witnessing a breaching Humpback Whale out on Stellwagen Bank. But the experience that really stands out is this: releasing a dolphin into the water.
It happened like this: early morning calls and texts from IFAW (International Fund for Animal Welfare) that they had a group of stranded dolphins in Wellfleet and were headed up to Herring Cove Beach and needed assistance in their release. I am a trained volunteer for that organization, and, having the day off, I headed to the site and arrived just behind the specialized vehicle carrying the dolphins.
In the back of that vehicle lay four dolphins on mats, attended by the professional staff, monitoring their conditions, sampling blood and taking other measurements. The poor animals lay gasping, one struggling feebly, arching its tail, the others more or less inert. We volunteers were quickly assembled and organized: a team of six of us quietly entered the vehicle and grasped the handles of a sling and laboriously staggered out (the dolphin weighed 450 pounds) and gently placed the animal into a specialized cart with oversized wheels. Assisted by Seashore lifeguards and rangers, we moved through the gathering crowd onto the beach and up to the water’s edge. On a command, we entered the water, suspending between us the dolphin in its sling. We were directed to stand, hip-deep, and let the animal acclimate to the situation.
It was then, looking down at the animal, that I entered a state of deep emotion. Annie Dillard said: “The great hurrah about wildlife is that it exists at all; the even greater hurrah is the actual moment of seeing it.” And this wild animal was essentially in my arms. It was an Atlantic White-sided Dolphin, with a beautiful white streak and tan patch on its otherwise dark background, and up-close the texture of its skin seemed otherworldly, almost plastic- hard to believe it was a fellow mammal. There were also some patches of grazing tooth marks that apparently are inflicted by fellow dolphins- part of being a dolphin. The single blow hole increasingly opened and released a shuddering puff. I looked into the eye, glazed with what looked like a clear mucous, and it showed little emotion. Overall, it was a state of calm passivity, of resignation, of bewilderment…perhaps of trust.
On a signal we were directed to drop the sling and step back. The professionals hand-guided the dolphin out into deeper water, and it eventually swam away and out of sight. Behind us there were cheers and applause from the assembled beachgoers. My state of being was a mixture of remaining as professional as could be and not breaking down in tears: where does that lump in the throat come from?
This is not about saving an endangered species. There are an estimated 30,000 Atlantic White-sided Dolphins in the western North Atlantic. This is about saving an individual wild animal. This is about paying back, saying to this ambassador of the natural world: thank you for your beauty, for your wildness; saying sorry for the impacts, avoidable and otherwise, that we impose upon you; saying can I touch you, connect, be part of the wild world you inhabit; can I help?
The dolphin swam away; I returned to my life.