And now for something…

…completely different.

Something slightly off-topic today, compared to the rest of the blog, not writing- or history-related, but at the end of the day, I am a marine biologist, and still a sucker for an adorable seal pup or magnificent killer whale (and yes, I know seals bite, but I’ve not been bitten yet, so can still see them as cute!).

Back in 2003, I took a course to become a Marine Mammal Medic, through the British Divers Marine Life Rescue organisation, a group set up by like-minded divers in response to stranded marine mammals around the UK coastline. Since 1988, if there has been a major marine disaster, BDMLR will have been there to help rescue stranded and injured animals, doing their best to return the animals to the wild.

On Saturday, there was a training course for new medics at Tynemouth, and I volunteered to help out – as well as trying to be helpful, it was also a great opportunity to refresh my skills.

As described in the link above, the morning is taken up with theory, covering the biology of whales, dolphins and seals, and the practicalities of what to look for if you’re called out to help a stranded / injured animal.

Assessing the dolphin in shallow water
Assessing the dolphin in shallow water

After lunch, you hit the beach! I have to admit, on my initial training course, it was an odd moment, walking onto the beach to find a seal, dolphin and whale lying near the water’s edge, waiting to be helped. Even though you know they’re not real, a little bit of you still believes… Sadly, so, sometimes, do members of the public. On Saturday afternoon, one individual did shout at one of the volunteers, asking why we weren’t doing anything to help these poor animals. In truth, we must have looked like pretty shoddy rescuers, sunbathing and munching on cookies just feet away from potentially dying animals… We also had members of the public rushing down to the beach to help us – everyone loves marine mammals, after all!

The skills you learn on a Marine Mammal Medic course are incredibly useful, and could lead to an animal surviving a stranding, rather than dying on the beach. Yes, there are cases where unfortunately an animal won’t make it, or won’t be well enough to be released, but at the end of the day, being able to make that decision, and do the right thing by the whale, dolphin or seal involved, means that you will have helped them, even if the ultimate result isn’t them swimming off into the sunset.

And you’re never on your own – throughout the day, it is emphasised again and again that there are senior medics, vets and other volunteers who are able to help you, if you happen to find yourself in a situation you’re uncomfortable with. It is an incredibly supportive network.

Taking the dolphin into deeper water to be released.
Taking the dolphin into deeper water to be released.

It is also an incredibly fun network to be a part of. Chatting on the beach, messing around getting the kit together – everyone knows that although rescuing real animals is a very serious matter, there’s a lot of fun to be had with a plastic whale and a hosepipe.

So please, go and have a look around the website, and if you’re coast-based, consider taking a course. It’s a great day out, with lovely people, and could help you help a stranded marine mammal. Definitely worth it.

Tackling a seal! (Don't worry, this one is fake!) [Thanks to Jane Lancaster for the photo]
Tackling a seal! (Don’t worry, this one is fake!)
[Thanks to Jane Lancaster for the photo]
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