Our Marine Mammal Rescue Team responds to every caller’s report of any marine mammal that has hauled out or stranded on the New Hampshire or northern Massachusetts shore (Essex, MA north).
Callers who leave a message on our 24-hour hotline promptly receive a call in return. It is important for our team to learn as much about the animal being reported as possible, specifically, its exact location, if it’s alive or dead, and details about its size, coloring, and behavior. The MMRT staff member on call then dispatches a Seacoast Science Center MMRT staff member and/or a volunteer to assess the situation. Once on scene, the rescue team assesses the situation in the following manner:
Does the animal appear to be healthy? We place the animal on 24-hour watch to monitor its health and behavior, and inform people that they need to stay back 150 feet or more. Disturbing or harassing a marine mammal in any way is illegal under the Marine Mammal Protection Act. Getting too close can also overly stress the animal, which could result in aggressive behavior or death, and possibly subject you and your dog to disease.
Is the animal sick or injured? Unless the animal is in extreme distress or visible pain, we start by monitoring the animal. Responders have been trained to recognize signs of an animal in distress and can determine if the animal could survive transport to a less crowded area or to a rehabilitation facility. The rescue team has an on-call veterinarian with whom we consult to verify the animal’s ability to withstand transport, as being transported is foreign and stressful to marine mammals. The animal will then be crated for transport, or in rare cases, it may in the best interest of the animal to be humanely euthanized to alleviate unnecessary pain and suffering.
Is the animal dead? We assess the condition of the carcass, collect data, and take photographs. The data is reported to the Marine Mammal Health and Stranding Response Program’s National Database and used by scientists for a variety of reasons, such as to monitor populations and their health, visualize trends, track human interaction, and understand spread of disease.
Is the carcass worthy of study/necropsy? Recently deceased animals are transported to New England Aquarium for necropsy (autopsy) to determine the cause of death and to collect tissue samples. The tissue samples are kept for the National Marine Mammal Tissue Bank for use by researchers across the nation.