From mass strandings to oil spills, marine mammal disaster response has been a growing concern worldwide. These incidents can impact any coastline though only happen sporadically; this in turn makes readiness potentially costly and difficult to maintain. In locations with strong stranding networks or oil spill response programs, maintaining readiness for such events may be more realistic. However, solutions are needed to prepare the rest of our coastlines for such incidents.
Though the impacts of oil spills on marine mammals have been noted for decades, they are not as well publicized as the impacts on birds. While response to oiled wildlife has primarily focused on birds, there have been responses involving marine mammals. However, these events are sporadic, and have worldwide distribution.
Readiness for marine mammal response requires a multi-tiered approach including global training, regional protocol implementation, and equipment development. These are all integral to successful response. In regions where marine mammal rehabilitation and stranding response occur regularly, permanent facilities may already be available for response. These however often require supplementation. We surveyed facilities and response organizations around the United States and Canada to determine oiled marine mammal response capabilities. We determined that while 81 organizations reported live marine mammal response capabilities, only 8 (9.8%) reported the ability to house and wash oiled animals.
Currently, equipment caches exist only in the United States, Europe, and New Zealand. Due to cost, maintenance, and transport concerns, equipment development and caching has been a particularly challenging aspect. To meet these global concerns and to supplement response in regions with active stranding networks, developing multi-use, portable, low-maintenance equipment has been a focus of multiple organizations. This model allows caches of equipment to be maintained in strategic locations. Equipment is being designed to require minimal maintenance, setup quickly, and be portable and lightweight to allow shipment by air.
As stranding response and conservation concerns expand internationally, the need to develop equipment stores for rapid response to epidemics, mass strandings, and oil spills is growing. The systems currently in development may provide for more rapid response to these incidents.
The authors wish to thank Sarah Wilkin and the regional stranding network coordinators of the NOAA Marine Mammal Health and Stranding Network; Carrie Goertz of the Alaska SeaLife Center; Curt Clumpner, Kyra Mills, and the staff and volunteers of The Oiled Wildlife Care Network; and Victoria Jensen of Water Matters.
* Presenting author