When a marine animal is stranded on a beach or struggling in the ocean, the first reaction most people have is to call their police or fire station. Often these municipalities then call the local aquarium.
An important part of any aquarium's mission is to help marine animals that are stranded. Mystic Aquarium is a founding member of the Northeast Region Stranding Network. The network consists of independent organizations dedicated to caring for sick or injured marine animals.
Even more importantly, aquariums conduct research to determine why the animals have come ashore. These animals are protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act. Only groups and facilities authorized by the National Marine Fisheries Service are permitted to handle these animals.
What should you do if you see an animal stranded on the beach? Mystic Aquarium has a 24-hour Marine Mammal and Sea Turtle Stranding Hotline, as do many other aquariums. We advise the public to contact us and not to touch the animal. Give the animal plenty of space, as a cornered animal may become aggressive because it is frightened. Keep dogs away from the animal, as they may get bitten. Diseases can also be transmitted between stranded animals and pets.
Seals may come ashore to rest. Do not try to move the mammal back into the ocean. Under no circumstances should you try to feed the animal. Finally, make a note of any obvious signs of injury and any recognizable landmarks near where the animal was found or spotted. This information will help the aquarium with rescue efforts as well as providing its medical personnel with valuable data that will help with its treatment.
Aquariums take care of stranded animals with little or no federal, state, or local funding. At Mystic Aquarium the number of animals we rescue, rehabilitate and release back into the sea has increased by 80 percent since our founding 40 years ago in 1973. Mystic has rescued dolphins, sea turtles, seal pups and sharks.
One animal rescue story that captured the public's attention was that of 8-month-old seal pup "49"; she was named for her rehabilitation number and later renamed "Cora" after more than 8,000 votes were cast in Mystic Aquarium's public naming contest. Mystic gave the public a choice of five harbor names: Coral, Grace, Hope, Madison and Mystic.
Last July Cora was rescued by the New England Aquarium after she was attacked by an older seal. Only 2 months old at the time, she was diagnosed with a respiratory ailment, and her left rear flipper was swollen. Cora was transferred to the Mystic Aquarium's Seal Rescue Clinic, where our veterinary team performed surgery to amputate Cora's infected flipper.
While Cora's surgery was successful, she could not be released back into the wild because she would not be able to swim quickly enough to escape predators. She is recovering at Mystic Aquarium and will be back on public display in the fall,
Aquariums work closely with each other as well as partnering with research facilities such as the University of New England to care for rescued animals. Mystic Aquarium has transferred and rehabilitated 60 harbor seal pups from the state of Maine alone.
Rescuing and studying these stranded animals provides aquariums with invaluable data about how these mammals are affected by their environment and what man-made factors, such as oil spills, are threatening their population.
Aquariums will continue to be on the front lines in caring for injured marine animals. But they urgently need the support of the public. So next time you hear about a mammal rescued on the shoreline, consider making a donation to your local aquarium.