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Source: Westhampton Patch

Hope After Tragedy: New Stranded Marine Mammal Plan Coming After Humpback Whale Euthanized

A community meeting regarding a humpback whale stranded in Moriches Bay drew a crowd of more than 100 Tuesday to discuss changes.


Posted: February 8, 2017
Originally Published: February 7, 2017

WESTHAMPTON, NY — Hope was born from tragedy at a community meeting to discuss the stranding, and eventual euthanization of a humpback whale in Moriches Bay that left hearts broken and fueled residents to ignite a fire for change.

More than 100 residents turned out Tuesday at a community meeting organized to present information related to the November 2016 stranding of a humpback whale in Moriches Bay, which took place at Brookhaven Town Hall in Farmingville.

"We were really pleased to see such a strong turnout and to hear from so many people. We look forward to working with the passionate Long Island community and our local stranding partners to develop new resources and new capacity for marine mammal stranding response," said Jennifer Goebel, media relations, National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration.

A statement on the NOAA Fisheries Greater Atlantic Region addressing future plans read: "Over the last two months, NOAA Fisheries met with the Riverhead Foundation for Marine Research and Preservation, the NY Department of Environmental Conservation, law enforcement officials, U.S. Coast Guard representatives, and the Atlantic Marine Conservation Society to discuss new partnerships, as well as the reinforcement of old partnerships, to help increase and enhance marine mammal stranding response capacity on Long Island.

"Capacity, resources, roles, and responsibilities have been the focus of discussions, which will be defined in a collaborative and comprehensive New York Marine Mammal Stranding Response Implementation Plan. At this time, we are pleased to announce additional capacity and resources have been identified that will greatly enhance stranding response capabilities within the State. The Riverhead Foundation for Marine Research and Preservation, which has historically been the primary stranding response organization for New York, will continue to fill a vital role in marine mammal response with efforts by responding to live seals, porpoises, and dolphins in distress."

In addition, the statement said, a newly formed non-profit organization, the Atlantic Marine Conservation Society, is now authorized to respond to any live large whale strandings. AMCS will also assist with collecting data from all species of dead marine mammals found on New York beaches or at sea.

"Protocols have been established with NY Department of Environmental Conservation to coordinate deployment of available resources at the state level with other Northeast regional stranding network partners and support agencies. NOAA Fisheries will continue to work with emergency response programs at the federal level to incorporate large whale stranding response into existing emergency response plans that involve federal, state, local governments, and community partners.

"We greatly appreciate the strong outpouring of support and resources offered during the recent humpback whale stranding in Moriches Bay. We expect to provide further updates and changes to be implemented for marine mammal stranding response in New York in mid-February," the statement concluded.

The concept of a new statewide large whale response plan and a non-profit instilled hope in those present.

Adrienne Esposito, executive director of the Citizens Campaign for the Environment, said, at the meeting, that NOAA "admitted that they were unprepared to utilize or accept all of the volunteer resources offered to them," after the whale was stranded. Offers of support poured in at the time as residents pleaded to be allowed to help the whale, offering manpower, equipment, and funding.

"They also have never had a Governor offer all of the state's resources to help a stranded whale. They said that the stranding response and communication needs to be improved to communities and within agencies," Esposito said.

To that end, Esposito said, NOAA said the goal is to focus on outreach, education, and notification, as well as creation of a statewide large whale response plan.

The plan, she said, will utilize community resources and organize all state and other governmental resources provided.

The new non-profit, she said, will now be in charge of all whale strandings. "One big problem before is that no one was in charge. This has already been fixed," Esposito said.

At the meeting, NOAA reps told the crowd that between 2008 and 2016 there have been 64 stranded whales on the eastern seaboard and only six survived, less than 10 percent, Esposito said.

"They need to do much better, and that is going to come with good planning," Esposito said.

Of the meeting, which lasted more than three hours, Esposito said, "We were told that they have never seen such a strong and meaningful community response. They have never been offered the variety and depth of community resources that the south shore of Long Island offered them to help. We are hoping this could create a new model of response so that more stranded whales can be successfully saved throughout our nation."

In December, as the Moriches community continued to mourn the stranded humpback whale that was euthanized despite pleas from the public to help, officials said they didn't know about those offers of assistance until it was too late. John Bullard, regional administrator of the NOAA Fisheries Greater Atlantic Region, posted a message on the NOAA website. To read the statement in full, click here.

The community was outraged that the whale was euthanized despite a tremendous outpouring of help and resources from the community; a vigil was held to mourn the whale's life after the euthanization.