By Meg Olson
The Whatcom Marine Mammal Stranding Network (WMMSN) put out a call for people in Point Roberts to be trained to respond to marine mammal stranding and the response was impressive.
“I have 17 people interested so far, when I usually get six or seven,” said Victoria Souze, the network’s principal investigator, only two days after the request for volunteers went out on Point Interface.
“We’ve even been offered a guest cottage when we come up to do the training,” she said. “I was flabbergasted.”
The WMMSN formally came into existence in 2008, a network of volunteers trained to respond to marine mammals in distress or dead, part of a web of similar stranding networks up and down the coast. “We are relatively new,” Souze said. “Before us there was no one to call. We exist thanks to our volunteers. We don’t have any grant funding.”
Volunteer responders help animals in distress, working with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) and wildlife rehabilitation centers. If an animal is deceased volunteers perform a necropsy to try to determine the cause of death, with the data becoming part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s database. Volunteers also help to educate the public about what to do if they discover a marine mammal dead or in distress. “Education is an important part of our network,” Souze said. The group currently has 64 certified volunteers.
In August WMMSN got a call about an orphaned seal pup at Lighthouse Park. “The caller seemed to know the right protocol,” Souze said, even taping off the area to keep people away and watching from a distance. “We can’t rescue all harbor seals and sometimes we need to let nature take its course,” Souze said, but in this instance it appeared the pup might have been abandoned due to human interference on the busy beach. WMMSN volunteers were able to get a ride on a WDFW boat, get the pup and send it to the Wolf Hollow Wildlife Rehabilitation Center in Friday Harbor for rehabilitation, to be later released back into the wild.
WMMSN has been branching out their training offerings, recently training volunteers in Birch Bay, and decided it would be beneficial to have people in Point Roberts certified to respond to marine mammal strandings. Marine mammals are protected under federal law and the general public is not to handle them without training and certification.
Souze said the group will happily train as many people as are interested. “We don’t have a limit,” she said, except for the availability of training materials. The training takes three hours and costs $35 for the manual, but if more people sign up that may go up slightly to cover printing more manuals. Training will likely be on a Saturday in October.