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Animals Up-Close

Encounters with the animals that call Mystic Aquarium home

Animals Up-Close: Learn More

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!

One of the activities that Mystic Aquarium and the other stranding network partners participate in is conducting necropsies on marine mammals that strand to try to determine cause of death. In 2017, NOAA declared an Unusual Mortality Event (UME) for three species of whales. The most common causes of deaths identified is ship strikes and entanglement. Many citizens are concerned that offshore wind energy projects might be contributing to the mortalities. To respond to these questions, NOAA has established an FAQ document that is updated regularly.

You can volunteer for the Animal Rescue Program by becoming a first responder. In this role, you would be dispatched to various types of marine mammal and sea turtle responses that may include the following: live animal monitoring, data collection, and public outreach. There is no specific time commitment or schedule requirement for this role. Mystic Aquarium is currently accepting applications for this program, if you have any questions, please email volunteer@mysticaquarium.org.

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.

  • 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 animal returning to sea, each case contributes to our understanding of the overall health of these animals and their ocean home.

Support our Animal Rescue Program