"Songs for the Sea" to assist marine animals and their caregivers

By Cyrus Moulton | Jun 04, 2010
Photo by: Cyrus Moulton Executive Director Cathy Zagzebski shows designs for the National Marine Life Center's expanded facility on Main Street in Bourne.

The sea has given us many songs. Grace Morrison is hoping that by performing some of them, we can offer the sea something in return.

Morrison is organizing Songs for the Sea, a free, afternoon concert and picnic on June 12 that will raise money through donations to benefit the National Marine Life Center (NMLC), of Buzzards Bay. The center treats and educates people about stranded aquatic and marine animals and is trying to raise money for an $8 million project to create a hospital that will be able to treat turtles, seals, dolphins and whales.

"I've always been interested in the ocean and wildlife," Morrison explained. "Back in February, I visited the center with my niece and felt inspired."

The musical lineup includes Morrison and her friend Matt Borello performing sets of blues-influenced country music, the Carl Wood Band playing blues-influenced rock, and even some of Morrison's students from Music of the Bay where she gives piano, voice and guitar lessons.

Staff from the center will also talk about their current patients and capabilities, and their vision for a new facility.  The center was founded in 1998 and has treated over 20 sea turtles, over 50 smaller turtles, and a seal.

It is the only marine animal hospital in the state.  While the New England Aquarium has a program to rehabilitate endangered Kemp's Ridley sea turtles, most stranded whales, dolphins, and other species of sea turtles or other injured aquatic wildlife have to be sent out of state, often to Florida or Texas.

Particularly for the whales, dolphins and porpoises, their survival rate decreases the longer they are out of the water.

"What's great about Massachusetts is that there are a lot of people and organizations who have different expertise in stranding and rehabilitation of marine animals, but the biggest piece that's missing is the big hospital that can take care of marine mammals," said Cathy Zagzebski, the center's president and executive director. And that is what the NMLC hopes to be.

It is in a perfect location to do so.

Cape Cod is "a stranding hot-spot," according to Zagzebski.  Basically it is a "huge arm extending into the ocean, it essentially becomes a trap for marine animals."

Zagzebski explained that the cape is not only a geographic barrier for animals migrating from coastal to offshore waters, but the cape also forms a sort of habitat barrier. The confluence of warm water from southern currents and cold water from the north over shallow banks creates an upwelling of nutrients that attracts a tremendous variety of animals to the area.

More temperature-sensitive animals, especially sea turtles, will often follow warm currents into Cape Cod Bay's shallower depths which keep the water warm later in the fall. If the animals stay too long, however, they become marooned when surrounding waters cool.  Many animals become "cold shocked" in the too-cool water and wash up on shore.  Zagzebski said that between 30 and 70 live sea turtles typically strand themselves on the cape.  Last year, 120 live turtles were rescued.

However, the center has nowhere near the space to handle so many patients.

In 2007, the roof began collapsing in the warehouse in which the center operated, requiring that staff move tanks for a few sea turtles into the visitor center. Since then, staff have been only able to treat a small number of Cape Cod's stranded animals, and its patients, including Patty the diamondback terrapin, eight red-bellied cooters including Catch-22, who swallowed a staple, and the necessary medical equipment are scattered in a warren of small offices and former closets in the organization's visitor center.

"We just have three people working full time, and with caring for the animals, running out to rescues, and all of the other administrative stuff of running a nonprofit, we don't have time to do a fundraiser," said Zagzebski. "To have [Morrison] come up with the idea, it's been really, really neat."

And Morrison is thrilled to help in her own way. "I figured I'd help by doing what I do best," she said. "Music."


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