by Pamela Murphy
There were some budding young marine biologists out on ‘Sconset Beach in recent weeks. Armed with binoculars, clip boards, and tape measures, they are learning how to collect and record data for the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration, assess the health of seals on the beach, and help the public understand the “do’s and don’ts” around marine mammals we share the shore with. And some of them are only five-years-old!!
Marine Mammal Alliance Nantucket (MMAN), in collaboration with the Sconset Trust, hosted workshops on Tuesday mornings for kids ages 5-12. MMAN Rescue Team member Kim Schulam describes healthy behavior of seals on the beach and explains that they are, in fact, okay out of the water—resting, digesting, or just hanging out.
But sometimes they do need help. That’s when Rescue Team Member and naturalist Blair Perkins comes in and demonstrates the different ways a seal or other marine mammal can get tangled up in plastics and in rope and how rescue teammates disentangle them. Using a life sized juvenile stuffed seal fully entangled in monofilament, Perkins emphasizes the importance of keeping our ocean and beaches free of plastics and debris and the devastating effects they can have on wildlife.
Dr. Steve St. Pierre, Mann’s veterinarian and Assistant Stranding Coordinator, teaches how to determine what is a safe distance from a hauled-out animal and what to look for when establishing whether it is healthy and happy or if it requires capture. Mann’s Education Coordinators Susan Rohrer, Megan Andelloux, and Rain Harbison developed the curriculum and assist in the field along with board president Pam Murphy who gets to hand out prizes.
Under a stranding permit from NOAA, only members of the Marine Mammal Alliance Nantucket’s trained rescue team are allowed to approach, assess, and render aid to any stranded marine mammal on Nantucket and surrounding islands. During the winter months, that means monitoring grey seal pups born on the beach who sometimes wander into parking lots and roadways or in tracks on the way to Great Point. Last winter one little fellow was reported near the White Elephant Hotel, but was finally located in the shrubbery at Brant Point Properties. He was returned to the beach in a safer location in hopes he would find his mom. A few hours later, MMAN responded to the same little guy in the road at Washington Street. With the help of the Nantucket Police Department, who kept the traffic at bay, he was scooped up and monitored overnight. In the morning he was sent off via Hy-Line Cruises to the National Marine Life Center in Bourne, where he was fattened up, hydrated, taught to swim and fish, and released.
Once the pups have grown up and head to the water, they get themselves into trouble with marine debris like monofilament, ropes, balloons, and even a toilet seat! From February till mid-June, the MMAN team is running from one end of the island to the other, responding to hotline calls and disentangling curious juveniles. On several occasions the team has relocated stranded dolphins, recently in Hither Creek with the aid of IFAW. If you see an injured, entangled or deceased marine mammal, please call the hotline at 833-667-6626 to get expert advice.
It’s a fun hour or so on the beach learning about those mysterious critters staring at us from just offshore. Kids are engaged and get to hug a stuffed seal for a photo op before receiving their official MMAN sticker or magnet. Join MMAN for additional workshops August 17 or 24 at 9:30 am on Sconset Beach. Workshops are free but register is required at NantucketMMAN. org because space is limited. There’s also a link on the home page to subscribe to the MMAN eNewsletter and links to other wildlife information and rescue services.