If you are reading this, you likely know that the ocean is changing and not necessarily for the better. Today it is increasingly more important for people to understand their connection to their surroundings. It is that understanding that drives us here at Mystic Aquarium, where it is our mission to inspire others to care for and protect our ocean planet.
Mystic Aquarium’s Animal Rescue Program offers a direct link to the wild marine animal population that is right here in our own backyard and is a shining example of where inspiration meets action. Thanks to active participation from ocean stewards, like first responders, volunteers and hotline callers, the Animal Rescue Team responds to live and dead marine mammals and sea turtles in Connecticut, Rhode Island and Fishers Island, New York. During these responses, animals in need of medical attention are rescued and brought to Mystic Aquarium for rehabilitation with the ultimate goal of release back to the open ocean.
From a hotline call to health check, response and rescue, specialized and compassionate veterinary care and monitoring, to final release, there are many aspects to our Animal Rescue Program.
We hope that, with the help of staff, volunteers and interns, this monthly blog will not only allow readers an unprecedented look at the Animal Rescue Program but also serve to inspire you to care for and protect our ocean planet.
But before we dive into the depths of the Animal Rescue Program, we want to introduce you to our staff.
Janelle Schuh – Animal Rescue Program Manager
I started my career at Mystic Aquarium in October 2007. I’m originally from California and received a marine biology degree from the University of California at Santa Cruz. My first experience with marine mammal work was with the Marine Mammal Center based out of Sausalito, CA. I mostly participated in rescue work, but occasionally I helped with their rehab program at the main hospital. I quickly learned that I loved working with marine mammals and was fascinated by the medical care that they received. Soon after graduation I was offered an internship at the Alaska SeaLife Center in Seward, AK. I was one of the facilities first interns and worked in all departments. Six months later, I was offered a paid position as a marine mammal trainer and remained in that job for three-and-a-half years. Then came the move cross country to the Northeast and many odd jobs (horse barn, raptor internship, Dick’s Sporting Goods, etc.) before finally being hired into the position I currently hold.
I enjoy many things about my job. Who couldn’t love working around animals all day?! But, by and far, the best part of my job is watching the friendships that form between our volunteers, interns, fellows and staff. Working with animals is hard work; the days can be long, stressful and very emotional. But in the end, the common bond that we share in our need to care for these animals helps form very strong and lasting friendships.
Sarah Callan – Animal Rescue Program Assistant Manager
As a Connecticut native, I grew up coming to Mystic Aquarium and always felt a connection to the ocean and its marine inhabitants. After graduating from St. Lawrence University with a Bachelor of Science in Psychology, I spent the next seven years living in different places around the world; learning as much as I could about various aspects of field work and the related species at multiple facilities.
My first year out of college was spent living in Queensland, Australia, where I volunteered at the Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary Veterinary Hospital. There I assisted hospital staff in treating native species for various illnesses and injuries. After a year in Australia, I made my way back home and ended up volunteering with Mystic Aquarium’s Pacific Northwest habitat. I quickly became fascinated with the training being done to communicate and build relationships with the animals. A year later, I ended up moving to Oahu, Hawaii, where I interned with Waikiki Aquarium’s Hawaiian Monk Seal Program. Working with an endangered species was an eye-opening experience and made the education and conservation aspect of this field that much more imperative for me. I held many different positions throughout my time in Hawaii (aquarist, waitress, pet transportation agent, assistant trainer, chimpanzee & fennec fox keeper) but my last position in Hawaii was the most life changing for me.
I had an opportunity to spend four months on an uninhabited island (Laysan Island), 1200 miles away from civilization. I was on Laysan Island with NOAA’s Hawaiian Monk Seal Research Program assessing and collecting data on the Hawaiian monk seal population. This experience was the most incredible few months of my life, yet heartbreaking at the same time. Even though this small island was so far removed from any human contact, the direct impacts from humans were seen everywhere.
The island was covered in marine debris and single use plastics; affecting every living creature out there. I knew I needed to turn this feeling of helplessness and frustration into something positive and be a voice for these animals. Soon after returning from this remote field work, I was offered the job here at Mystic Aquarium. I couldn’t be more grateful to be in a position where I help give animals a second chance at life, work with amazing people every day and have a platform to spread awareness about the conservation issues our ocean faces today. I look forward to sharing the many aspects of our program with you all and hope that you enjoy this blog series as much as we enjoy the work that we do.
Jessica Cebelius – Animal Rescue Technician
I discovered my passion for this field when I began volunteering for Mystic Aquarium’s Animal Rescue Program in September 2015. Despite always wanting a career working with animals, I originally earned my bachelor’s degree from Eastern Connecticut State University (ECSU) in business administration and accounting. I quickly learned that this was not the path for me. I went back to ECSU to earn a second degree in biology. In addition to volunteering at Mystic Aquarium while at school, I also completed internships at Connecticut’s Beardsley Zoo and New England Aquarium’s turtle rehab facility. I also participated in an independent study where I studied the decline in bridle shiner populations. Once finishing school, I went on to complete an internship in our Animal Rescue Program in summer 2018. I continued my involvement as a volunteer once the internship ended, and by the following spring I was granted the opportunity to become the Animal Rescue Technician!
I began this part-time position in July 2019 and it has been incredible. I love coming into work not knowing what the day is going to bring. Although rewarding and exciting, we are constantly faced with the harsh realities that our oceans are encountering. Every species plays a role in our ecosystem and I am grateful for the opportunity to make an impact not only on the life of an individual animal, but also the overall health of a species. I love getting to help these animals in need and I get to do so working with some awesome people who share the same goal – to give these animals a second chance at life.
We hope you’ve enjoyed reading about the staff that work in the Animal Rescue Program! Stay tuned each month for further information about our program and how we’re working to make a difference in our local waters. We are all very excited to dive deeper and share more about our program through this blog!