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Hundreds of stranded dolphins challenge rescuers in Cape Cod

David Friedman / msnbc.com

Team members check the health of dolphins before transporting them for release back into open water.

David Friedman / msnbc.com

An IFAW team carries a stranded, live dolphin off the beach at Herring River in Wellfleet, Mass.

Celebrating a small battle won in a much larger war, Misty Niemeyer and Kathryn Rose shared a high-five after successfully releasing three dolphins back into open water Monday . The staffers with the International Fund for Animal Welfare’s Marine Mammal Rescue and Research team, aided by other organizations and a small army of volunteers, have struggled to keep pace with a spate of dolphin strandings on Cape Cod over the last month.

David Friedman / msnbc.com

Misty Niemeyer and Kathryn Rose, celebrate successfully releasing three stranded dolphins back into open water on Monday, Feb. 13, in Bourne, Mass. Strandings are normal on Cape Cod in winter, but this year is the highest number on record, according to the International Fund for Animal Welfare.

As of Tuesday, IFAW has cataloged 177 common dolphins strandings since Jan. 12 -- of those, 106 were found dead and 71 found alive. They attempt to rescue all live animals and get them back to open water, and at least tag the dead ones. It may be months before researchers understand why the numbers are so high this year, but right now the IFAW team is just trying to keeping up.

Staff and volunteers from the International Fund for Animal Welfare's Marine Mammal Rescue and Research team try to rescue  and release stranded dolphins on Cape Cod. Strandings are normal there in winter, but this year is the highest number on record, according to IFAW. Msnbc.com's David Friedman reports.

In the two days I spent photographing them for the video above, their phones rang dozens of times with people calling in dolphin sightings. Many were dead animals that had already been tagged, but whenever a call came in about a live dolphin they jumped into action. Niemeyer says of this winter's onslaught, "Our staff’s getting a little tired and little weary, and unfortunately it doesn’t look like it’s going to slow down at any point. We’ve had live animal strandings almost every day for the last week at least, and almost every day, or every other day, for the last month. So there really isn’t any sign of it slowing down yet."

Read more about the efforts of the International Fund for Animal Welfare’s Marine Mammal Rescue and Research team here.

David Friedman / msnbc.com

IFAW staff and volunteers prepare to release three rescued dolphins back into open water in Bourne, Mass., on Monday.