A harp seal hauled out on ice in Bar Harbor. The Allied Whale program at College of the Atlantic plans a winter marine mammal stranding response workshop Saturday from 1-5 p.m. PHOTO COURTESY OF ALLIED WHALE

Stranding workshop offers tools for new and existing volunteers

BAR HARBOR — Whenever a marine mammal is stranded or injured in the area, Allied Whale, the marine mammal lab at College of the Atlantic, is among the first on the scene.

The group relies on a network of volunteers to help with its work. A Winter Stranding Response Workshop set for Saturday, Jan. 31, aims to train new volunteers and update existing ones on relevant issues.

The workshop is free and open to the public, running from 1-5 p.m. in the McCormick Lecture Hall on the COA campus.

Sean Todd, a COA faculty member who directs Allied Whale, will give an introduction on the stranding network, program coordinator Rosie Seton said. “He’ll talk about why we respond to strandings and how we investigate a stranding,” she said.

Different seal species are found in the waters around Mount Desert Island in the winter and summer, Seton said, so another portion of the training will focus on identification of these different species.

A consulting veterinarian for the group, Dr. Carissa Bielamowicz, will discuss diseases and safety issues for responders. “She’s been a stranding volunteer herself for years,” Seton said.

“The workshop is a great way to learn what’s involved if you’re thinking about becoming a volunteer,” Seton said. “But also, I love it when people come to workshops who just want to learn about the marine mammals they see on our shores. Learning about the assessment we do during a stranding, they’ll be that much better informed if they ever see an animal stranded.”

The Allied Whale volunteer base includes a stranding email list to which Seton sends regular updates and a newsletter.

“The newsletter helps ‘gel’ the volunteer network,” she said. “We’ll go through weeks or months where someone might not be active. We’re doing response and necropsies only, not rehabilitation work, which is more intensive. Necropsies are probably not everyone’s cup of tea, but there’s that aspect if people are interested.”

When staff receive a call alerting them to a stranding, Seton often consults the volunteer list to see who might be nearby who could respond to gather more information or take photos. “I’ll phone them up, and they’ll go be a first line,” she said. “Their job is to observe, they’re not going to be interpreting or diagnosing – people sometimes get nervous about that.”

With uncertain weather this week, Seton urges anyone interested in the workshop to check the Allied Whale Facebook page for updates or call the stranding program cell phone, 266-1326, before traveling.

UPDATE: The workshop has been rescheduled to Sunday, Feb. 8, 1 – 5 p.m. in the McCormick Lecture Hall.

Liz Graves

Liz Graves

Reporter at Mount Desert Islander
Former Islander reporter and editor Liz Graves grew up in California and came to Maine as a schooner sailor.

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