Caring for Stranded Marine Animals
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The Future

The National Marine Life Center is building a new Marine Animal Hospital and Discovery Center. Join us!

Why here? Why now? Why us?

Pilot whale mother and calf.  Photo by Don Lewis.

Pilot whale mother and calf. Photo by Don Lewis.

Cape Cod is a global stranding hotspot. Each year hundreds of helpless marine animals, all federally protected and most endangered, beach on our shores, alive and in desperate need of medical care. With no local facility, nearly all marine mammals that could not be immediately freed were euthanized, and escalating numbers of cold-stunned sea turtles swamped regional resources. To address this need, we founded the National Marine Life Center to build a marine animal hospital within the stranding hotspot to give ailing sea turtles, seals, dolphins, porpoises and small whales the best chance for survival and return to the wild. Saving these animals has an enormous impact on the health of declining populations, as well as a dramatic surge in environmental awareness and ocean conservation.

Lauren D & BHM 06-17-06In an aging warehouse, dedicated staff and volunteers labored in challenging conditions (leaky roof, no heat, inadequate plumbing) to provide the best medical care to patients. We rehabbed scores of endangered and threatened turtles, including 19 of the rarest sea turtles in the world, and returned them to the wild to reinvigorate vanishing populations. When the roof collapsed in 2007, we expedited plans for a marine hospital to achieve our vision to “restore life to the ocean.”

We chose Bourne for our hospital at the gateway to this stranding hotspot at the nexus of Cape Cod and Buzzards Bays. The center draws salt water, the very lifeblood of any marine animal facility, directly from Cape Cod Canal through its new life support building. At this pivotal location, the animal hospital receives patients from throughout the region, and its discovery center provides an anchor for community revitalization. The National Marine Life Center offers opportunities in life science careers, inspiration for regional youth, a world-renowned destination attraction in the heart of Buzzards Bay and an engine of economic growth for the south coast of Massachusetts.

With unique insight gained through marine animal care, we learn science lessons from our patients that tell us about the health of the oceans. We identify ocean diseases, and the center serves as a national resource on parasitic infections in pelagic animals. We publish findings in peer reviewed journals and deliver presentations in national and international forums. Knowledge treating marine animals has improved human medical treatment for ailments such as middle ear infections and pediatric joint injuries.

Promises Made, Promises Kept

Even under challenging conditions, the NMLC keeps its promise to restore life to the ocean through rehabilitation, science, education and conservation, while creating opportunities for community growth. Scores of stranded animals have been returned healthy to the wild, and state of the art knowledge of ocean diseases has been advanced through scientific studies. In education, we have delivered more than 650 unique, hands-on programs to nearly 17,000 children, adults and seniors, and we reached into classrooms from pre-school to post-grad. We showcased innovative learning techniques to master teachers at regional and national education conferences. We shared informal lessons with more than 61,000 Discovery Center visitors. Dozens of interns and college students have engaged in animal care studies and science education. Over 300 regional students have completed community service projects at the center, and we have actively partnered with the Massachusetts Juvenile Diversion Program. More than 50 dedicated volunteers gained experience in animal care and wildlife hospital management at the NMLC.

New Challenge, New Promise

Waves of Progress-Waves-updatedThe NMLC has begun a phased $6M capital campaign to deliver critical, sustainable capabilities to the center in discrete, affordable “waves” of approximately $2M. Last year the NMLC completed its first wave, the new life support building that provides life-giving salt water to our tanks directly from the Cape Cod Canal. Construction is now underway for Phase 2A of the animal hospital, which when completed will offer treatment facilities for sea turtles and seals. The third wave, Phase 2B of the hospital, will provide pools and medical facilities to care for dolphins, porpoises and small whales. Fulfilling our vision will come with the final building waves for the discovery center and ocean science laboratories to extend the reach of our promise into future generations of caregivers, educators, scientists, conservationists, discoverers and families. Designed from stem to stern as a model green facility, the National Marine Life Center will meet the medical and rehabilitative needs of stranded marine animals in Cape Cod and the northeast region, while we model through example the key lessons of ocean conservation. In the end, education and awareness offer the greatest hope for our stressed ocean planet. Projections suggest that as many as 300,000 visitors will tour the NMLC Discovery Center annually to learn lessons about restoring life to the ocean.

The Time Is Now

While the challenge may be great, our promise is greater still. Today there exists no facility, no hope for a dolphin or juvenile pilot whale that beaches in the stranding trap called Cape Cod. If a cetacean strands in this region, there are but two options: immediate release or euthanasia. In the overwhelming majority of cases, the only humane response is to euthanize the animal. With a system of large flexible pools, the National Marine Life Center will offer life-sustaining hope to our intelligent mammal brethren, and another option Bob Ballard Statement 2to euthanasia. As ocean explorer Bob Ballard says, “The sooner we get this center going, the better.” The flexibility of our hospital design prepares us to respond to the inevitable next mass stranding of critically endangered and internationally protected sea turtles like the nearly 300 cold-stunned juveniles that beached on Cape Cod after the global warming summer of 1999. As worldwide temperatures rise, even at a gradual rate, models predict that already high numbers of tropical and semi-tropical sea turtles trapped by chilly Atlantic waters in Cape Cod Bay each fall will escalate rapidly. Strandings of critically endangered Kemp’s ridleys, for instance, have soared from just a few each year in the 70s, 80s and early 90s to hundreds in 1999. As oceans warm, more juvenile sea turtles will become trapped in “hook” of Cape Cod, doomed to hypothermia and certain death without human intervention and sufficient medical care facilities for long-term rehabilitation.

The National Marine Life Center, with its animal hospital, rehabilitative facilities and discovery center located at the gateway to the greatest stranding hotspot in North America, offers the best chance to restore these precious lives to the ocean and to instill a science-based conservation ethic among the next generation of ocean goers. Quoting America’s greatest anchorman and avid ocean sailor Walter Cronkite, “The time is now. Won’t you help us support the National Marine Life Center? We will all, and the animals too, thank you.”