PORTSMOUTH — Gov. Maggie Hassan paid a visit to the city on Tuesday morning to celebrate the launch of the new Marine Mammal Rescue Team based out of the Seacoast Science Center in Rye.
Hassan was joined by John Bullard, northeast regional administrator for National Marine Fisheries Services, a division of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, as well as representatives from the New England Aquarium and the SSC.
SSC is the first New Hampshire organization to lead an MMRT. Previously, marine mammal rescue efforts in the state were handled by the New England Aquarium with assistance from staff and volunteers at the SSC.
The designation was made official by the federal government in November, and the MMRT has been up and running since January.
The MMRT will staff a 24/7 hotline, 365 days a year, to receive reports of marine mammals in need of assistance, or from the public worried that a seal might need assistance. Signs will be posted at various beach entry points and first responders and town governments along the coast have also been notified. Rack cards will also start appearing at area businesses.
Seals are the most common type of marine mammal found along New Hampshire's coast. The harbor seal population has been on the rise; it is not uncommon to see juvenile harbor seals on the beach between mid-May and late June, the busiest time of year for marine mammal rescue in New Hampshire.
Hassan said marine mammals are part of a resource that makes New Hampshire special.
She said the SSC is the perfect organization to lead the team, as their mission focuses on good stewardship of the ocean.
She said the natural treasures of New England are central to our daily lives, and it is important the state take responsibility for its own coast. Bullard said the SSC has an outstanding reputation in science education and will become one of 14 partners in assisting marine mammals from Maine to Virginia.
He said real-time and monthly reporting to NOAA will also help identify trends, critical issues and unusual mortality events. In 2011, Jenness Beach in Rye was at the epicenter of a flu virus that attacked and killed young harbor seals.
Tony LaCasse, media relations director for the New England Aquarium, said education will be a central function of the MMRT, as many people do not understand it is normal for seals to haul out of the water for a rest.The MMRT Hotline is 997-9448.