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NOAA Fisheries Welcomes Seacoast Science Center to Its Marine Mammal Stranding Response Team

Wendy Lull, president, Seacoast Science Center

Ashley Stokes, marine mammal rescue coordinator

Stranding Response Team:  Ashley Stokes, Sarah Toupin and Rob Royer with Gerry Beekman, consulting veterinarian

On January 1, the Seacoast Science Center became an official member of NOAA Fisheries Marine Mammal Stranding Response Network. The center was later recognized by New Hampshire Governor Maggie Hassan, area business representatives, NOAA Fisheries and New England Aquarium staff at a Greater Portsmouth (New Hampshire) Chamber of Commerce breakfast ceremony.  

“The Seacoast Science Center is highly regarded for its innovative ocean education programs through its Distance Learning Center, school programs and environmental day camps,” said NOAA Fisheries Northeast Regional Administrator John Bullard. “We’re very excited that they are going to expand the scope of their efforts to now include assisting stranded, injured and sick seals, whales, porpoises, and dolphins in New Hampshire’s coastal region.”

The Center plans to collaborate with the New England Aquarium in Boston, Massachusetts and the Marine Animal Rehabilitation and Conservation Center at the University of New England (MARC) in Biddeford, Maine.The Center will provide the feet on the ground to rescue marine mammals (whales, dolphins and seals) that strand along the New Hampshire shoreline. The Aquarium will conduct necropsy (animal autopsies) and pathology (study of disease) work as needed, while MARC will handle the rehabilitation and release of marine mammals.

“We’re pleased to be part of the network and authorized by NOAA Fisheries to help animals in need,” said Seacoast Science Center President Wendy W. Lull. “As a non-profit marine science education institution, the protection, response, and rescue work we will be doing is a perfect fit for our ocean education mission. With every response, we have the opportunity to educate people about the animals, the marine ecosystem and what they can do to protect the animals and the sea. But to carry out this important work, we need the public’s help: the seals can’t pay and federal funding is limited. We invite New Hampshire residents and everyone who cares about marine animals to make a donation to ensure our rescue team is ready to respond by making a contribution to our rescue fund.”

The Center has pulled together a dedicated and experienced team of trained staff and volunteers, including consulting veterinarian Gerry Beekman, DVM. The team will be led by Marine Mammal Rescue Coordinator Ashley Stokes. Ashley has been working at the Seacoast Science Center for eight years, and was also a New England Aquarium Marine Animal Rescue Team volunteer for seven of those years. Additionally, both part time rescue assistants, Sarah Toupin and Rob Royer, are former volunteers of the Aquarium’s marine animal rescue team.

“On January 12 we responded to our first seal sighting case! Strandings tend to increase in springtime when harbor seal pupping season begins, but we are currently working hard to ensure that we are fully prepared for the busiest season.” said Marine Mammal Rescue Coordinator Ashley Stokes. “We are educating first-responders in coastal communities, distributing informational brochures, and putting up signage at beach access points."

Not every marine mammal that comes onto a beach or rocky shoreline is in trouble and in need of help.  So, if a seal is spotted on the beach, the best thing to do is watch it for a while. The seal could be resting or just waiting for its mother to return from fishing if it is a young animal. However, if a marine mammal is in trouble there are things the public can do to help:

All marine mammals are protected by the Marine Mammal Protection Act.

To keep up on what the Seacoast Science Center is doing, you can also visit their Marine Mammal Rescue Facebook page. https://www.facebook.com/nhmarinemammalrescue

NOAA Fisheries is also looking for organizations interested in serving as a member of the Regional Stranding Response Network to assist animals on the Massachusetts Northshore (Salem/Beverly to Gloucester) and to cover Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard. For more information about the network please contact Mendy Garron, NOAA Fisheries Northeast Region Marine Mammal Stranding Response Coordinator at 978-282-8478 or Mendy.Garron@noaa.gov.