News, events and updates on conservation, education and engagement projects from the Canadian Wildlife Federation
With the devastating loss of 17 rare North Atlantic Right Whales, 2017 was a particularly difficult year for marine mammal conservation. Sean Brillant, a Senior Marine Conservation Biologist with the Canadian Wildlife Federation, hopes Canadians won’t soon forget the tragedy WHAT CAUSES MARINE ANIMAL EMERGENCIES?
Marine wildlife can become distressed for many reasons. Some causes are natural, like storms, predators or disease, but others are due to shipping, fishing and other human activities. Every year more than 1,000 marine animal incidents are reported in Canada involving dozens of different species such as whales, dolphins, porpoises, seals, sea lions, sea turtles and sharks.
Regardless of the cause, it’s important that we respond because it is a chance for us to learn about how these animals live and what they’re affected by. This allows us to conserve marine wildlife by knowing how we should change our activities in the ocean so that we do not harm marine wildlife.
WHY DO YOU THINK CANADA NEEDS THE WATCH?
In order for us to do our job, we need people that spend time on Canada’s coast to join The Watch. The Watch is a program that will help members of the public — the beach-goers, boaters, paddlers, fishers, coastal residents and more — to understand how to identify a marine animal emergency and what to do in these situations. They’re basically the first responders who can make sure people stay safe and improve our ability to conserve wildlife. And of course, they’ll make the crucial call to their local marine response network to report the incident.
WHY IS IT SO IMPORTANT FOR CANADIANS TO EDUCATE THEMSELVES ABOUT WHAT TO DO IN A MARINE ANIMAL EMERGENCY? WHY NOT JUST LEAVE IT ENTIRELY TO THE EXPERTS?
The regional networks of response specialists are not constantly monitoring our coasts, so it’s crucial that every one of us who has the privilege to spend time on a coast keep a watchful eye out for marine animals in distress. It’s our
responsibility to report these situations, and to know who exactly to report these incidents to. Without proper reporting, these animals could go undetected or the response could be delayed. The longer it takes for a response team to arrive, the more information is lost.
WHAT WOULD YOU HOPE SOMEONE WHO’S TAKEN PART IN THE WATCH PROGRAM WOULD BE ABLE TO DO IF THEY STUMBLED UPON A MARINE ANIMAL EMERGENCY?
Firstly, we want to help Canadians learn what is and is not an emergency. For example, seals and sea lions regularly leave the ocean to rest on a beach, so when these events are reported, a response is not needed, but often people misunderstand this as an emergency that requires a response.
When there truly is an emergency, it’s important that everyone stays safe and that no one, deliberately or mistakenly, interacts with a marine animal (live or dead) and jeopardizes its survival or an appropriate evaluation of its situation. For example, many people who happen upon a live animal on a beach will want to try to keep it wet or even get it back in the water. It’s incredibly dangerous to approach any wildlife animal — and marine wildlife tend to be quite large — so it’s best to steer clear! Despite the best intentions, it’s possible you could even harm the animal by handling it or dragging it. You might actually make the situation worse. The best thing you can do is report the incident to the appropriate response network, take lots of photos, and stand by to make sure no one else gets close or harms the animal. I know this goes against what many people want to do, but it really is the best thing to do. These are complicated situations and require specialized training and everyone would hate to cause more harm than good.
WHAT WILL THE EXPERTS DO WHEN THEY ARRIVE AT THE SCENE?
Response specialists will examine the animal and decide if another course of action is needed. If the animal is alive and in danger, they may attempt to rescue the animal, but if the animal is dead, they’ll collect tissues and take photos and they may decide a full-scale necropsy is needed. They will also usually speak with people on the scene to get information and to educate spectators about the situation.
How much do you know about marine animals and what it takes to keep them safe? Take The Watch quiz to find out at marineanimalresponse.ca!