As we begin preparation for our busy spring and summer stranding season, we have been told that the NOAA Fisheries budget for the entire Marine Mammal Stranding Program nationwide is slated for even more substantial cuts again this year, including money for staffing of the Prescott Marine Mammal Stranding Program. Recent budget cuts have already hurt our program, and these proposed cuts will further impact our ability to respond/investigate many strandings as well as curtail our research project begun several years ago to determine comparative levels of certain toxins in our local marine mammals. All told, we received a total of 17 harbor porpoise calls in 2014.We were able to collect nine carcasses for necropsy. The others were either too scavenged or decomposed to be of value or floated out to sea before they could be collected. Additional testing for the presence of cancer causing viruses in the harbor porpoise found to have lymphoma (reported to GlobalGiving last November) is being considered if funds can be found. The information gathered from Harbor porpoise necropsies not only provides up to date information on the health of our Harbor porpoise population, but also translates into how the ocean habitat is doing and what toxins are increasing, which is valuable information that also relates to our endangered Southern Resident orcas who share the same waters and eat a similar diet.The attached chart “Harbor Seals - 2014” shows the number of harbor seals reported to our stranding network. July through September is our busiest season for birthing and weaning of pups. We provide extensive education to the public on how to share our island with harbor seals and to make people aware of the necessity to avoid disturbing newborn pups and their nursing mothers. Nevertheless, harbor seals still suffer an approximately 50% mortality in their first year of life due mainly to human interference and predation by transient (meat-eating) orcas. Despite funding cuts to NOAA's Marine Mammal Stranding program, the Central Puget Sound Marine Mammal Stranding Network continues to respond to stranded porpoise, seal pups, molting elephant seals (see photo), and the occasional Gray whale or sea lion stranding, thanks to supporters like YOU! And we continue to provide public education via our website and Orca Network's Langley Whale Center on Whidbey Island, WA, where many of our marine mammal specimens are on display.We truly appreciate the donations received via GlobalGiving that enable us to support the work of our veterinarians and numerous volunteers investigating why our marine mammals are dying in the Salish Sea.Our sincere thanks, we truly could not do it without your support!
The Central Puget Sound Marine Mammal Stranding Network has continued to respond to a higher number of Harbor Porpoise strandings than we have experienced at any time in our past - as of November, we have had 13 dead Harbor porpoise strand in Island and Skagit counties, four in the quarter since our last project report.
We conducted two necropsies in September, one of which was confirmed to be a fisheries interaction. Net markings were detected on the face and rostrum of the porpoise, and the necropsy found no sign of disease or ill health, though when we cut into the skull, hemorrhaging was found at the base of the skull and top vertebrae, likely from the porpoise's struggle when it became entangled in the net. Besides being able to document a fisheries interaction, this rare healthy specimen will enable us to do testing on different tissues and organs to compare to the usual diseased porpoise that we necropsy. We are awaiting results of tests on additional necropsies performed this past month, and have two more porpoise in freezer storage awaiting necropsy by our team.
And speaking of our team - we have had some changes this year, as we say farewell to Matt Klope who has been one of our CPSMMSN’s principle investigators for many many years. Regretfully, Matt has resigned that position to make more time for his family and growing taxidermy business, and will no longer be involved with most of our strandings/necropsies - however will come and help out as his schedule allows when we have whales or large pinnipeds on the beach. THANK YOU MATT—for all you have done with CPSMMSN!
To replace Matt on our necropsy and stranding team, we have been very lucky to find Dr. Barry Rickman VMD, PhD, DACVP. Barry is a veterinary pathology (Sound Vet Path) specialist and has recently joined our team. He resides in Edmonds—and has a home pet care and euthanasia business, and is a great part of our necropsy and pathology team — we’re very happy to have him on board. Barry has put together a great poster about our porpoise with B-cell Lymphoma,which was presented at the regional Marine Mammal Stranding workshop, and he and Stephanie Norman are working on publication of a paper on this case.
It is only through the help of YOUR donations that the Central Puget Sound Marine Mammal Stranding Network can continue to keep up with stranding response and investigation in the Salish Sea, and we truly appreciate your support.
Summer is the busy season for our Central Puget Sound Marine Mammal Stranding Network, and this year has been no exception! We have been busy fielding calls about Harbor seals nearly every day, as this is the "pupping" season when Harbor seal pups are born. Mom often leaves her pup on a beach unattended while she goes off in search of food, and this provides the pup a chance to rest and warm up on the beach while mom is gone. Unfortunately, this happens at a time when our beaches are full of humans who flock to our many miles of beaches to rest and warm up, as well.
Many well-intentioned but uninformed citizens want to help what might appear to be an abandoned, helpless little seal pup on the beach, but when humans interfere, the ending is rarely good for the pup. Pups have not yet developed a scare response to humans, but their mothers have. So if people are crowding around a pup on the beach, the mom won't come back for it until they are gone. People often think the pup needs to be fed or have water poured on it, but the best and only thing to do if you see a seal pup on the beach is to LEAVE IT ALONE and leave the area so mom will come back.
Good information can be found in NOAA Fisheries great publication "Sharing the Shore with Harbor Seal Pups" - if you live in Washington State or other coastal states where seals are found, we encourage you to read and share this information. One of the most important functions of our Stranding Network is to educate the public about marine mammals, and what to do if you find a live or dead stranded marine mammal on the beach. We have developed a Rack Card about seal pups that is distributed through our volunteers, at events, and at our Langley Whale Center, and we have several educational displays to help educate the public about seal pups.
The Central Puget Sound Marine Mammal Stranding Network has also been responding to a larger than usual number of Harbor Porpoise this year as well - so far nine have been reported and/or responded to in our stranding region. In recent years the entire region has seen an increase in the number of Harbor porpoise deaths, and researchers are now saying the increase is due to the increase in the population of Harbor porpoise - so that is GOOD news!
Good news or bad, the Central Puget Sound Marine Mammal Stranding Network is here to help the public learn about our marine mammals, and to investigate marine mammal strandings to provide information that helps researchers and agencies understand the health of our ocean ecosystems and their inhabitants. Without your support, we would not exist - our heartfelt thanks goes to each and every one of you who donates to this important Orca Network project!
It's hard to believe June is nearly here, but the weather is warming up, people are headed to the beach, and the summer marine mammal stranding season is here! The Central Puget Sound Marine Mammal Stranding Network has already had calls for seal pups, recovered two dead porpoise to be necropsied next month, examined dead seals on beaches, fielded questions about a molting elephant seal, and responded to an entangled sea lion that thankfully was actually a sea lion "rafting" with his flippers in the air, floating on the currents.
We are always relieved when there is a happy ending to a marine mammal stranding call we respond to, but in the cases where the ending is not a good one for the marine mammal reported, all is not lost. With your help, our team is able to examine and thoroughly necropsy marine mammals that wash up dead on our beaches. The information from these cases is extremely valuable in assessing the health of our oceans and marine mammal species, and tests are done on samples from dead stranded animals to help detect new or emerging diseases, to determine toxicity in our ocean waters, and to determine the health of communities or populations of species in our region.
The Central Puget Sound Marine Mammal Stranding Network has also done our best to help fill requests for samples or specimens to aid others in their research efforts. This month, our team worked to gather and submit samples of teeth from the porpoise we have necropsied, to supply to a research study in the San Juan Islands; and 8 dorsal fins from Harbor and Dalls porpoise were supplied to a research study at Baylor University. Many specimens collected by the CPSMMSN are now on display at Orca Network's new Langley Whale Center, on Whidbey Island, WA, along with educational displays and materials about the marine mammals of the Salish Sea.
We thank you for your support, and would not be able to do all of the above, and more, without your help! We are fortunate to have an experienced and talented stranding team, and fortunate to have a caring and supporting community of folks like you. Have a fun and safe summer ~
The Central Puget Sound Marine Mammal Stranding Network has responded to and retrieved two more dead stranded Harbor Porpoise since the last report - one from Camano Island, and the other from Whidbey Island. A third porpoise was reported and photographed on Whidbey Island recently, but it had been too scavenged to necropsy or collect much data from. This is a higher than usual number of porpoise in comparison with most years, but bioligists have seen a growing Harbor porpoise population in our area, so it's possible the increase in strandings is due to the increase in population. The two porpoise that were necropsied show signs of disease and ill health, and samples are being held to send off to be sampled to help us determine the exact cause of death.
The porpoise we discussed in our last update is being held to be cleaned and the skeleton rearticulated, to become a future display in our new Langley Whale Center.
On Saturday March 1st, Orca Network will open the doors to our new Langley Whale Center, in Langley on beautiful Whidbey Island! Langley is a great place to see Gray whales in the spring, as they come in to feed on the ghost shrimp in the nearshore area. Our local group of about 10 - 12 gray whales visits Whidbey Island from March through May or June each year, so the opening of our Whale Center will be just in time to welcome the return of the whales. Orca Network's new Whale Center is supported by Langley Main Street Association and the City of Langley, and we have been hard at work on preparing the exhibits and displays, which will include information about the local Gray whales, the Southern Resident orcas, Transient orcas, and other cetaceans and marine mammals of the Salish Sea. A Blue whale jawbone has been loaned to us by Monte Hughes of Mystic Sea Charters, and will be used to make an archway over the entrance to the Whale Center. We will display bones, baleen, barnacles, and whale lice from Gray whales that have stranded on Whidbey Island, as well as skulls from seals and sea lions and other marine mammal specimens our Central Puget Sound Marine Mammal Stranding Network has collected over the years. The Center includes a DVD player to play educational videos about the whales of our area, a Lending Library of whale books and videos for visitors to check out, and educational materials, as well as a small gift shop to sell whale books, DVDs, and other whale-related items. Our Orca Network/Central Puget Sound Marine Mammal Stranding Network board and volunteers have been busy preparing to open our doors March 1st, and we will be planning a Grand Opening in the late spring or early summer, once we have everything in place. The Langley Whale Center is an exciting opportunity, and the first time Orca Network and Central Puget Sound Marine Mammal Stranding Network will have a space open to the public to better share information about our whales and marine mammals, and we expect our outreach to be greatly multiplied by this endeavor. The Center is located at 117 Anthes, in Langley on Whidbey Island, and is only a block away from the waterfront and "Whale Bell Park" where the big Whale Bell is rung whenever whales are spotted in the area. If you are on Whidbey Island, come visit our new Langley Whale Center, and stop in to say hello! And if you're lucky, maybe you'll get to watch some whales from the shores of Whidbey Island with us ~
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