NOAA Authorizes Nantucket Marine Mammal Stranding Team

Pygmy sperm whale (Kogia breviceps) that beached and died on Nantucket’s Cisco Beach on 12/25/2014. From right, Sgt. Keith Robinson, MA Environmental Police, Scott Leonard, and volunteer Cheryl Samsel. Courtesy of NOAA Fisheries.

NANTUCKET – After several years without marine mammal stranding coverage on Nantucket and the outer islands, Marine Mammal Rescue Nantucket has been named an authorized response organization by NOAA Fisheries.

The organization, also known as MMRACK, fills an important gap in the Greater Atlantic Region Fisheries Office network and will respond to both live and dead whale, dolphin and seal strandings on Nantucket, Tuckernuck and Muskeget Islands.

A response team from the New England Aquarium had covered the area for 33 years until its agreement with the network was lost in 2014.

Marine Mammal Alliance Nantucket CEO Scott Leonard, who will lead the team, has spent more than a decade working as a stranding volunteer for the New England Aquarium.

“We will have our own agreement and our own team,” Leonard said. “We do have a substantial group of weathered and seasoned volunteers out here.”

Many of the volunteers were trained by and worked with the Aquarium team.

“We have a long road ahead in terms of getting up to the speed that is required of a network team but we will be there fairly soon,” Leonard said.

Leonard expects the team to be fully trained and up and running by the beginning of summer.

The team has been assisting the Massachusetts Environmental Police, Nantucket Police and the Coast Guard with marine mammal issues in the area.

NOAA Fisheries officials said they are looking forward to working with MMRACK to increase stranding response capabilities on Nantucket and to help with monitoring the populations and health of marine mammals.

“Nantucket is an important area for marine mammal populations, particularly gray seals that breed and pup there,” said Mendy Garron, NOAA Fisheries Greater Atlantic Region Marine Mammal Stranding Response Coordinator. “Having a stranding response organization on the island will help us track the health and welfare of these populations and help reduce conflicts through education and outreach.”

For more information on how to get involved with the stranding response team or to report a stranded marine mammal on Nantucket, Tuckernuck and Muskeget Islands call the MMRACK Hotline at 833-667-6626.

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