By Jack Genoways
BAR HARBOR — Allied Whale, the marine mammal research and rescue organization at College of the Atlantic (COA), held its Winter Marine Mammal Stranding Response Workshop via Zoom on Feb. 5, ahead of its busy spring season. Allied Whale typically responds to reports of stranded seals and other marine mammals, such as harp seals, hooded seals, whales, dolphins and porpoises.
Allied Whale’s stranding coordinator Rosemary Seton told workshop participants that the organization aims “to impart knowledge and to create awareness” so that people know what to do when they encounter marine mammals in distress. She started with some simple advice. “Don’t panic – the animal may be fine.”
Grey seal pups, born between December and February, and harbor seal pups, born in late May/early June, do not need to be in the water all the time and are often left alone on shore while their mothers are out feeding. If people encounter a seal pup, or other marine mammals, they should stay at last 150 feet away and should not try to touch or feed the animal, which is illegal under the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972.
If a marine mammal appears to be in distress, report it to Allied Whale. The organization is authorized by NOAA Fisheries to respond to marine mammal emergencies and strandings in the Gulf of Maine from Rockland to the Canadian border.
Seton stressed that building a network of qualified volunteers is an important goal of the strandings program. Volunteers are trained to assist researchers in the field and are taught the basics of species identification and behavior to determine when an animal is in distress. Volunteers also spread the word about the appropriate response to marine mammal encounters, which gives animals a better chance of survival.
Work-study students at COA also participate in the stranding program, conducting research and helping to train volunteers. At the workshop, COA senior Molly Tucker spoke about short-finned pilot whales and their vulnerability to mass strandings caused by mid-frequency naval sonar and ship rudder noise.
To report a marine mammal stranding, contact Allied Whale at (207) 266-1326. For more information about Allied Whale, go online to www.coa.edu/allied-whale