Wampanoag Tribe joins NOAA Fisheries’ stranding network

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A dolphin washed up on Lucy Vincent Beach in July. — courtesy Town of Chilmark

NOAA Fisheries reported that the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah) has recently joined its marine mammal stranding network. 

The stranding network is a part of NOAA Fisheries’ marine mammal health and stranding response program, which “coordinates emergency responses to sick, injured, distressed, or dead seals, sea lions, dolphins, porpoises, and whales.” Network partners are authorized to assess the health of live animals and “provide triage and rehabilitation when necessary.” Additionally, the network “investigates the cause of death of marine mammals.” During a response, network partners may also collect “collect data and samples for diagnostics, research, and education,” which can help NOAA Fisheries “better understand and address the cause of stranding events.” 

According to NOAA Fisheries, there had been a gap in the Greater Atlantic regional marine mammal stranding network’s coverage of Martha’s Vineyard since 2014. This gap will be filled, as the tribe acts as the steward of 500 acres of land on the Island. Additionally, the tribe signed a stranding agreement with NOAA FIsheries under the Marine Mammals Protection Act. This government-to-government agreement “provides authorization for the tribe to respond to marine mammals throughout the Vineyard,” although their focus will primarily be in Up-Island areas surrounding their trust lands.

The tribe’s team will consist of members from the Aquinnah Wampanoag’s Natural Resources Department: indirect services administrator Bret Stearns, laboratory manager Andrew Jacobs, and environmental coordinator Beckie Finn. The team has experience working as stranding responders under the New England Aquarium when it managed stranding responses on the Island. 

“We are thrilled to welcome an experienced team of responders to our stranding network. This partnership will help stranded marine mammals receive care, while also recognizing the cultural importance of marine mammals to the tribe,” Ainsley Smith, regional marine mammal stranding coordinator for NOAA Fisheries, said. 

If you see a stranded, distressed, or dead marine mammal, contact a local stranding network partner or call NOAA’s stranding hotline at 866-755-6622.

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