Animal Rescue Program
Since 1975, Mystic Aquarium’s Animal Rescue Program (ARP) has been rescuing, rehabilitating and releasing sick, injured and stranded marine animals along 1,000 miles of the Northeastern coastline throughout Connecticut, Rhode Island and Fishers Island, New York. As a founding member of the Greater Atlantic Region Stranding Network, the ARP also learns more about why these stranded animals came to shore. Working closely with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Fisheries, which is the ARP’s permitting office, and other government agencies, the Animal Rescue Team responds to an average of 150 hotline calls each year while also providing support to other stranding facilities in New England and even as far as California and Bermuda!
You can volunteer for the Animal Rescue Program by becoming a first responder. In this role, you would inform Animal Rescue staff about the animal’s situation prior to their arrival.
All marine mammals (dead or alive) are protected by the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972. This prohibits the hunting, harassing, capturing or killing of any marine mammal.
If you see a dead or alive marine mammal or sea turtle:
- Leave a message on the Mystic Aquarium’s 24-hour hotline 860.572.5955 x107 and expect a return call
- Give the animal plenty of space, keeping people and pets at least 150 feet away (it’s the law!)
- For the animal’s safety and your own, do not touch, feed or attempt to help in any way
- If the animal appears to be dead, keep your distance – some zoonotic diseases are harmful to humans and can be transferred to pets
A majority of patients admitted to the ARP are seals including those commonly found in New England like harbor, gray, harp and occasionally hooded. Some of the animals admitted to the Aquarium’s Animal Rescue Clinic are rescued by our team from within our coverage area; however, the majority are transferred from other stranding facilities.
On average, most seals remain in the care of the ARP for about two to four months receiving specialized care from a team of animal care professionals including veterinarians as well as dedicated volunteers and interns. In the week leading up to a potential seal’s release back to its ocean habitat, the animal goes through a series of “tests” – both biological and physical – to ensure it is in good health. Once deemed releasable, efforts are coordinated with local government agencies for release; which generally take place off the Rhode Island coastline.
While not every report ends with a healthy seal returning to sea, each sighting, regardless of its outcome, contributes to a growing database. Collecting and archiving samples or data from each sighting, admitted patient and partnering organization is contributing to knowledge on the health of these animals, reasons why they come ashore, their ecosystem and the environment overall.
Mystic Aquarium is proud to provide world-class, long-term care to animals that, for a myriad of reasons, have been deemed non-releasable by US government agencies. From the likes of Astro, a Steller sea lion that stranded several times following multiple attempts at rescue and release, and Charlotte, a green sea turtle that suffers from ‘bubble butt’ following a boat strike and Clara, a California sea lion rescued during an Unusual Mortality Event (UME). These animals and others like them have found their forever home here at Mystic Aquarium where they will continue to receive the very best in care and enrichment all while serving a critical need as important species ambassadors.
The animals that we have the privilege of caring for every day not only provide deep connections to our guests, helping to inspire ocean stewardship but they also provide vital information to Mystic Aquarium scientists and their colleagues; working tirelessly toward advancement in support of conserving their wild counterparts.
Our exhibit interpreters and animal care specialists greet guests every day providing important species information and sharing inspiring stories of all our marine mammals and birds!
Around The Globe
Whether it’s assisting with the Unusual Mortality Events of California sea lions, helping to raise an abandoned beluga calf in Alaska or hand-rearing penguin chicks in South Africa, Mystic Aquarium is a proud partner in global conservation.
Chick Bolstering Project
The Southern African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds (SANCCOB) is a major rehabilitation network for African penguins and other coastal birds that is comprised of leading experts in sea bird conservation, rehabilitation and research. Each year, Mystic Aquarium sends a member of our African penguin care team to help in SANCCOB’s efforts to help save these animals from extinction.
The 24-hour flight to Cape Town, South Africa, is just the start of the Aquarium’s resolute initiative to help with SANCCOB’s Chick Bolstering program. One of our penguin trainers makes the trip during our slow winter season, which is generally SANCCOB’s busiest time of year as the number of abandoned African penguin chicks increases.
Sadly, approximately 2% of the historic African penguin population remains in the wild and is at risk of further decline. Many in the field even believe wild African penguin populations could go extinct within our lifetime – a powerful and devastating reality.