By Sean Horgan
---- — Following a shift in focus by the New England Aquarium, NOAA Fisheries is looking for more volunteers to help in the federal agency’s programmed response to reports of marine mammals stranded along the coast of Cape Ann, the North Shore and other portions of the Massachusetts.
Mendy Garron, NOAA’s marine mammal stranding coordinator, said the Boston-based aquarium, which was the lead responder for marine mammal strandings from the Maine-New Hampshire border to Cape Cod and the islands, has decided to limit its marine mammal response area and no longer will cover the coast from Salem and Beverly to the New Hampshire border, Martha’s Vineyard or Nantucket.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is hoping to help fill that void by enhancing its legion of volunteers for its Marine Mammal Stranding Network and particularly is interested in recruiting any volunteers who worked with the aquarium or other marine mammal rescue organizations in the past.
“Right now, we’re just trying to gauge the interest out there,” Garron said Tuesday. “Ultimately, we plan to schedule training meetings to judge people’s interest and their experience. And then we’ll go from there to more extensive training for the volunteers.”
The volunteers, she said, would not be asked to handle or try to move the stranded mammals, but to assist with the collection of basic field data.
Marine mammal strandings, she said, are not uncommon along the Northeast coast and that Massachusetts has the highest marine mammal stranding rate of any state between Maine and Virginia. According to NOAA, those strandings can involve individual animals or groups and occur for a variety of reasons.
The reasons include advanced age, disease, extreme weather or oceanographic events, harmful algae blooms and human-related causes ranging from vessel strikes to pollution and fishing gear entanglements.
Interested volunteers should contact Garron at 978-282-8478 or visit the website www.nero.noaa.gov.