Mystic Aquarium hosts animal responder training

Thu, 12/05/2019 - 5:15pm

“If someone is out walking and they see a stranded animal on the beach, they can call our hotline number and we will call an island volunteer responder. We have a 24 hour hotline and get calls pretty frequently. We rely heavily on our first responders for help.”

That’s how Sarah Callan, Assistant Manager of Mystic Aquarium’s Animal Rescue Program, began her presentation on how to become a first responder for stranded marine mammals on Block Island. Those in attendance were asked to sign up as first responders who could be notified by the Aquarium if their assistance was needed.

The training occurred on Saturday, Nov. 23 at the Island Free Library, with the event drawing in both islanders and visitors for the presentation.

Mystic Aquarium’s responder program has been traveling to locations in Rhode Island, Connecticut and Fisher’s Island, New York, where the trainers hold sessions for the public to learn how to help injured or stranded animals, and how to identify certain species.

Mystic Aquarium follows federal rules and regulations when it comes to rescue and rehabilitation efforts for cetaceans, seals, and sea turtles. Enacted in 1972, the Marine Mammal Protection Act prohibits the act of any forms of harassment, killing or trapping marine mammals.

Callan noted previous harassment and injuries have been inflicted upon marine mammals, including seals. 

Callan identified procedures for approaching a stranded animal on the beach or in the water. She said to keep your distance, and that not every animal may need assistance or rescue. A stranded animal can be a dead marine mammal on the shore or in the water; a live marine mammal unable to return to the water, an animal who needs medical attention on shore, or is unable to return to its natural habitat.

“It is normal behavior for seals to come inland and rest. Do not touch, feed, or stand over a resting seal. Be focused on your safety first, and the animal’s safety last,” she said. Wild animals will protect themselves if they feel threatened, often resulting in bites or attacks. Seals on Block Island have been found in high numbers at the North Light and along the town’s beaches.

She also stated to keep animals and pets away from wild animals, as this can cause stress to the wild animal. If you are too close, “seals may eat the sand and rocks on land, acting as a stress response if you come too close.”

When the time comes for action, volunteers are informed of the location of the animal by Mystic Aquarium, and are asked to identify the animal and its behavior. In most cases, seals (harbor seals, gray seals, harp seals and hooded seals) are common calls for rescues and rehabilitations on the island.

Other animals in the area have included whales, dolphins, and sea turtles.   

“We get a call from the general public, and get as much information on location, very detailed information. This information is shared with an island volunteer, who will report to the location and observe the animal at a distance and respect their space.”

The Animal Rescue staff will be in touch with the responders for help or questions during this process.

While at the location of the stranding, volunteers are asked to educate the public on the marine mammal and to be respectful of its space. Volunteers at the library event were given educational materials, signs, and pamphlets to use for educating themselves and the public when a stranding event occurs.  

Jules Craynock, an islander and marine mammal responder, stated “we have materials available on island for volunteers to use in helping and rescuing the animals.”

Responders are asked by the Aquarium team to remain calm and to “let people know who you are and let them know you are with the Aquarium... it is illegal to approach an animal within 150 feet; breaks the MMPA code,” Callan said. In most situations, the animal will be monitored by an island first responder with periodic check ins.

If the injured animal needs assistance, however, it could be placed on a ferry to be taken to Mystic Aquarium to be checked, Callan added.

Mystic Aquarium is responsible for the transport of the injured or stranded animals.

Once at Mystic Aquarium, injured animals are monitored through various rehabilitation programs on its campus. During their time in rehab, the animals will be checked by veterinarians for physical exams, and blood samples. Callan stated “we always make sure we save space for animals.”

If you see a stranded, injured or dead animal, Mystic Aquarium’s 24-hour hotline number is (860) 572-5955, ext. 107. Photos and locations of the animals can be sent to

To learn about educational and outreach opportunities, call (860) 572-5955 or email