Volunteer Spotlight: Ocean City MARP Team

Marine Animal Rescue Program (MARP) volunteers living in the Ocean City area are typically the first responders dispatched to calls regarding sick or stranded marine mammals and sea turtles in Maryland.

Upon arriving to the scene, the volunteers assess the condition of the animal and document important information such as GPS location, weather conditions and species identification. The first responder on the scene communicates with the Aquarium’s stranding coordinator so an appropriate action plan can be developed and carried out. These volunteers are truly the Aquarium’s eyes and ears of the Atlantic coast of Maryland!

Sometimes being a MARP volunteer calls for action that is above and beyond the “normal” duties laid out in the handbook; and sometimes, since we can’t control Mother Nature, these situations occur back to back to back. The week of May 8–15 brought challenges for MARP that were unusual, to say the least, but the Ocean City volunteer team came together and rose to the occasion.

They all deserve recognition and thanks, and so our Volunteer Spotlight shines over all those who assisted with frontline MARP activities that week: Claudia Alesi, , Christina Camillo, Chuck Erbe, Ellen Erbe, Dave Quilter, Hugh Hommel, Charlotte Sampson, Mark Sampson, Donald Spence, John Stewart, Sharon Stewart, Jimmy Tragle, Caroline Whalen-Strollo, Barb Wisniewski and Bill Yates.

The afternoon of May 8, a stranded whale sighting was reported; but when MARP volunteers responded to the call, they found something very unexpected – this was a beaked whale, a deep-water species that rarely washes ashore alive. Volunteer Mark Sampson describes the scene: “It was choppy, the whale was grounded, obviously ailing, and it was already late enough in the day that we knew if something didn’t happen in a timely manner we’d lose our light and that wouldn’t make things any easier.”

Though the whale could not be saved, MARP volunteers worked late into the night to make sure that the loss was not in vain, and that the whale could be preserved for scientific study. “It was certainly a sad and unfortunate ending for the whale,” Sampson said, “but I was impressed with how efficiently so many people within our ‘network’ came together and helped to resolve the issues we all had to face that afternoon and evening.” It was a collaboration of state, federal and local officials and employees, neighborhood residents and, of course, so many members of MARP. Whether they were physically present or coordinating from miles away by telephone or computer, everyone pitched in and made the process work as smoothly as possible.

Just a few days later it was “business as usual” for MARP. The  team gathered for the scheduled release of Hastings, a juvenile harbor seal, on May 13. The OC MARP team is always able to handle these exciting events with grace, and Hastings made a successful return to the sea.

Just when they thought the excitement was over, the first responders of Ocean City were called to duty again. On May 14, a call came in claiming that a “dolphin” was stuck in a residential canal near 28th Street. The “dolphin” turned out to be an ocean sunfish (Mola mola), a very large fish that is typically found in the open ocean. Though MARP technically responds only to stranded marine mammals and sea turtles, our dedicated volunteers could not walk away from a fish in distress. MARP members were able to escort the sunfish by boat out of the canal to the Ocean City Inlet and back out to sea, for the second happy ending of the week.

Without volunteers who are willing to respond time and time again, and who have the flexibility to adapt to unexpected situations, none of this would have been possible. Thank you, OC MARP volunteers! For information on how you can get involved with MARP, click here!

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