It's too early to call the rescue near Cape Cod a success, but it looks like there's good news for a fifth of the dolphins that began washing ashore on the Massachusetts coast earlier this month.
The majority of the dolphins rescued during the "mass strandings" have survived and appear to be tooling about off the coast of Maine, according to a news release from the International Fund for Animal Welfare.
Rescuers put satellite tracking tags on six of the 24 animals that they have rescued and released since January 12, when rescuers began finding dozens of common and Atlantic white-sided dolphins along a 25-mile stretch of shoreline.
As many as 100 dolphins may have been stranded during the episode, 50 of which were dead when they were discovered, wrote IFAW senior program coordinator A.J. Cady earlier this week. Three of the dolphins with tracking tags died after being released.
"We're all exhausted, muddy and unsure what tomorrow will bring," Cady wrote Tuesday, "but rest assured, if more dolphins strand, we'll do everything in our power to rescue and release them into open ocean."
Experts are uncertain why so many dolphins washed ashore. Hypotheses include: They may have been caught in currents when they approached land to feed, a pod of dolphins may have stayed in the area to help a sick or injured dolphin or the topography of the Cape Cod coast may create areas that can trap dolphins.
You can watch an IFAW expert explain last week that this is a common occurrence between January and April and how rescuers go about saving the dolphins.
IFAW said that tracking data suggests most of the saved dolphins, some of which were released back into the water near Provincetown, were about 18 miles off the Maine coast Thursday, roughly 190 miles away. They "appear to be utilizing known offshore habitats for this species," the release said.
Brian Sharp, IFAW's stranding coordinator, said it was too costly to tag all the dolphins, "but by looking at the data from tagged animals we can hopefully get a picture of where the larger group may be headed."
"Right now, three satellite tags are still transmitting and signs for the remaining 21 dolphins are encouraging," he said in a statement Thursday.
IFAW experts said that while the data are good news, it's prudent to wait at least 21 days before deeming a rescue operation a success. The satellite tags are designed to drop off the animals after a few weeks.
One rescuer told CNN that this was only the second time in 15 years she had seen so many dolphins wash ashore in Cape Cod.