Background photo by Greg Hinson

The National Marine Life Center is a marine animal hospital and science education center. Our mission starts with the animals—helping individual animals rescued off the beach to recover so ideally they can be returned to the ocean. As the animals come through our facility, we use the opportunity to inform our science program. Learning what makes them sick helps us make them well, but it also tells us what’s going on in the ocean. And what impacts a large mammal like a seal or a dolphin also has the potential to impact people.

The center is focused on helping sea turtles, seals, dolphins, porpoises, and small whales up to the size of a pilot whale. In 2004, we admitted our first patient, a Loggerhead turtle named Eco. Right now, we have facilities for and approval to rehabilitate sea turtles, and we’re working on getting approval to rehabilitate seals. As we grow and expand the inside of our hospital, we will be building larger pools for dolphins and porpoises.

Cape Cod Bay is basically the number one place in the entire country for dolphin mass strandings—it’s actually third in the entire world. There’s really no place in the entire New England region to take care of anything larger than a harbor porpoise, so perhaps the most ambitious part of our project is to incorporate dolphin rehabilitation. Even though it’s difficult and time-consuming and expensive, it’s also really important and there’s a lot that we can learn from dolphins, too.

We’re still a relatively young organization. The center was founded in 1995 and we moved to Main Street in Buzzards Bay in late 1997. We moved here in large part because there are some great resources for a facility like ours—namely, the Cape Cod Canal and the proximity to a fabulous source of clean salt water for the animals. The Cape Cod Canal is a tremendous and overlooked resource in this area. It has wonderful access to the water, it’s a wonderful place to see ships passing through, wildlife, birds—and the occasional marine mammal.

We operate in a fabulous town, but it’s a town in need of economic development. We work hard to be good neighbors, and the goal of our larger project is to bring people to this part of the Cape that needs more visitors, tourists, and economic development, to bring some professional and scientific jobs to the town through our organization.

Bourne is a great community full of welcoming, warm people. In a lot of ways, the New England personality, and especially the Cape Cod personality, is closer to what I grew up with in the Midwest—we’re a little bit reserved, but friendly overall. Bourne straddles the Cape Cod Canal, and it has parts that are probably quintessential Cape Cod and parts that are probably more affiliated with mainland towns. I like that juxtaposition.

To report stranded seals and dolphins, call the International Fund for Animal Welfare (508-743-9548). Call Mass Audubon at Wellfleet (508-349-2615) to report stranded turtles. And the best way to help the animal is to actually leave it alone and get other people to leave it alone. 
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Jeff is the Managing Editor for Cape Cod Life Publications.

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Street Scene, Buzzards Bay, Bourne, Mass

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