The Marine Education, Research and Rehabilitation Institute stranding response team executed a daring rescue of a gray seal pup that had fallen into a crevice between the rocks at the south side of Indian River Inlet April 10.
The pup couldn't extricate herself from this predicament, so she decided to play dead, wedging her head under one of the rocks in hopes that everyone would just go away. To make matters worse, the tide was coming in rapidly, so the rescue team had to work quickly before the area became inaccessible.
Getting her into a net from her hiding place was no easy task, but the rescuers succeeded in pulling her out and subsequently crated her and drove her to a quiet release site north of the inlet. She made her way, albeit slightly reluctantly, back into the water and swam north. Rescuers hope she is well on her way back to New England after her Delaware adventure.
As Delaware’s stranding response organization for the past 13 years, MERR has been on call 24 hours a day providing stranding response for marine animals that are in need. MERR Executive Director Suzanne Thurman, along with institute veterinarian Dee Holm and their intrepid volunteers have responded to more than 1,200 stranded animals, offering veterinary care for those that are injured or ill and providing thorough research on those that have died.
These efforts are conducted no matter what the weather, the holiday, the massive size or weight of the animal, or the time of day or night. When this team of marine rescuers is able to help an animal like this gray seal pup trapped in the rocks, or the recently stranded gray seal pup that was entangled in fishing net, struggling and unable to breathe, they know that the hardships are all worthwhile.
In addition to rescue and research, MERR provides education/outreach for more than 10,000 people every year on the subject of whales, dolphins, porpoises, seals and sea turtles. Education remains at the heart of the conservation mission, and programs are provided free of charge so everyone can learn the importance of stewardship for these magnificent creatures and their ocean habitat.
MERR is based in Lewes, but provides stranding response throughout the entire state of Delaware. It also assists other stranding organizations throughout the Northeast Region with stranding events, and provides important data to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control, and researchers. The service MERR provides to these marine species, the community and the state eliminates the need for the state to provide stranding response and saves the state an estimated $400,000 each year.
In order to fund this vital program, MERR relies on community support, donations, fundraisers, membership dues, a new state license plate and grants. MERR has successfully obtained a federal grant, known as the John H. Prescott Marine Mammal Rescue Assistance Grant Program, for the past 10 years.
This grant, which has been an important source of funding for the organization, has been eliminated from the federal 2014 budget. MERR will continue to pursue other sources of revenue from endowments and sponsorships so its important work can continue to be a trusted and reliable mainstay in the coastal community.
To report a marine mammal or sea turtles stranding, or for any other information regarding these marine species, call MERR's 24-hour hotline at 302-228-5029 and go to merrinstitute.org.