Mystic Aquarium’s rescue program continues to provide assistance for marine species on the island

January is gray seal pupping season on island
Thu, 01/07/2021 - 6:15pm

Block Island is home to a diverse list of marine mammals, especially seal species. But sometimes, marine mammals on the island need to be rescued or have their health assessed, which is where Mystic Aquarium’s Animal Rescue Program and Clinic comes into play.

Mystic Aquarium’s Animal Rescue Program, established in 1975, has been “rescuing, rehabilitating and releasing sick, stranded or injured marine animals” ever since its opening, as stated on its website. The program sees to marine mammals along the coastline throughout Connecticut, Rhode Island and Fishers Island, New York to gain a sense of why the animals came to shore.

The Block Island Times spoke by phone recently with Assistant Manager of the Animal Rescue Program Sarah Callan, who provided background on the program and her connection to the island community through the rescue program. Block Island currently has first responders available for Mystic Aquarium’s rescue program, such as resident Jules Craynock, who provide an avenue of communication between the aquarium and the island.

“I have been with the program almost five years to the day. I grew up in Connecticut, and came to Rhode Island a lot as a child. My passion is with the animals, and over the years, I have realized a lot of it has been working closely with the community on the island,” said Callan.

Callan shared the process of bringing rescued patients to the Animal Rescue Clinic at Mystic Aquarium, after responders on the island assess the marine animal through set regulations and communication with the aquarium’s program.

“Anytime we bring an animal into the clinic, the first things we do is we have our vets take blood work and complete a thorough physical exam. Every animal is different, and we are always learning something new. Our goal for every animal is to release them. Luckily, we do get to make it to the end goal with a lot of the animals,” said Callan.

In March 2020 when the presence of Covid-19 was announced in the United States, the Animal Rescue Program closed its doors as a safety measure against the virus. The program resumed its operations on Nov. 19. In a press release dated Dec. 22 from the rescue program, the Animal Rescue Clinic announced its first patients of the year: six endangered Kemp’s ridley turtles.

“We have six Kemp’s ridley turtles in our care, currently from cold-stunned cases that came from Massachusetts,” said Callan.

While the rescue program commonly sees seal species as patients – harp, gray, harbor, and sometimes hooded seals – the program has taken in other marine mammals and sea turtles over the years.

“This time of year, a lot of people don’t realize we have four species of sea turtles off of Rhode Island in the summer time: leatherback, green sea turtle, Kemp’s ridley and the loggerheads,” said Callan. “We had a manatee one time from Florida – a very special case.”

Callan noted the gray seal pupping season will begin in January on the island.

“We have had reports of gray seals, and we see all year round the same with harbor seals. We like to know what species we are seeing out there and hanging out. We do respond to live and dead animals. We try to get enough information and data to learn more about the species as a whole,” said Callan.

While the idea of approaching a seal pup may seem enticing, Callan stressed that the seals, and other marine animals, are still wild animals.

“When people do see them, they have sharp teeth and they are made to survive on their own out there,” said Callan.

Callan listed the following steps to follow when one does find a live or dead marine mammal on the island:

“For live animals, I would recommend that people should keep a distance of 150 feet. Under the Marine Mammal Protection Act, people need to stay 150 feet from any marine mammal. We also don’t want to stress animals out by getting close. We can assess their health from a distance.”

“A good reminder about dead animals: they carry diseases and can transmit the diseases to humans and to animals, such as dogs. If you do see a dead or live animal, it’s important for you and your pets to stay away,” added Callan.

“Keep a distance, and call our hotline at (860) 572-5955 ext. 107. When you call the hotline, we get the message and we will send a responder on the island out to that animal. The responders of the Animal Rescue Program are great – they can send us photos or videos of the animal for us to assess the health,” said Callan.

When asked for her final thoughts on the importance of having the rescue program available for communities, Callan shared how crucial the rescue program is in the conservation of the environment and the animals that live there.

“I think every animal that we get a call or to the clinic tells us what is going on in our environment. I think that every animal is so important and deserves that second chance of life. We try to find as much data and work with the community to conserve and protect our local environment,” said Callan.

For those who are interested in becoming a Mystic Aquarium Animal Rescue Program responder on the island, email the aquarium at

To learn more about the program: