Standing-room only for marine mammals on Capitol Hill
In response to the recent extraordinary strandings of bottlenose dolphins along the East Coast and of California sea lion pups along the West Coast, combined with the proposed decrease in federal funding for US marine mammal stranding response efforts, the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) hosted a Congressional Briefing yesterday on Capitol Hill.
Co-hosted by Congressman Keating of Massachusetts and Congressman Huffman of California, the purpose of the briefing was to update their colleagues on the mass strandings, otherwise known as Unusual Mortality Events (UMEs), and to inspire them to request that stranding efforts be fully funded at the necessary $4 million that had been allocated yearly prior to 2013.
I had the honor of moderating the event, introducing the dynamic duo of Congressmen Keating and Huffman, both of whom care greatly about this issue and represent districts where UMEs have happened.
Presenting alongside the Congressmen, IFAW brought together a geographically diverse panel of experts to talk about the current bi-coastal UMEs and the importance of the John H. Prescott Marine Mammal Rescue Assistance Grant Program.
Known more commonly as the Prescott Grant, it is the sole source of federal funding for the National Marine Mammal Stranding Network’s response work.
A vital source of rescue, rehabilitation, and research, the National Marine Mammal Stranding Network is made up of many small stranding response organizations that assist the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in responding to marine mammal strandings along our US Coasts, a task that NOAA is mandated to perform under the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA).
Our experts were welcomed by a packed room of almost 80 decision-makers in attendance from Congressional offices, the Administration, and NGOs, and after energetic and impassioned opening remarks by our co-hosts, the panelists laid out the story unfolding on both sides of the US:
Jeff Boehm, Executive Director at The Marine Mammal Center (TMMC), kicked off the event by introducing the audience to the Prescott Grant, and explained that the Prescott Grant Program is in danger of continued funding cuts from its original $4 million allocation to the $1 million allocated in the past few years.
Jeff outlined and emphasized how the grantees of Prescott funds are required to match their grant amount by 25%, which plays a crucial role in leveraging private resources to do this work. He finished his presentation by giving a detailed account of the recent California sea lion pup UME and highlighting the value of Prescott in making response possible and the value of the public/private partnership.
Next, Susan Barco, Research Coordinator at the Virginia Aquarium and Marine Science Center, relayed her experiences responding to past and present marine mammal strandings; specifically the dolphin UME in 1987 along the Virginia coastline, and the one currently underway.
Her polar experiences of how strandings were performed before and after the Prescott Grant Program began in 2001, laid out the essential nature of the funding. Susan discussed how without continued Prescott support, responders will, for example, be unable to provide the data essential for public health information gleaned from stranding response necropsies.
Closing out the presentations, IFAW’s Animal Rescue Program Director Katie Moore compared specific marine mammal stranding response capabilities before and after Prescott. The outcome was astounding; without Prescott funding, Katie reported a 14% survival rate for stranded marine mammals.
With Prescott funding, the survival rate is now over 70%.
Katie left the audience with the knowledge that, should Prescott funding decrease or vanish, the National Marine Mammal Stranding Network will no longer be able to help NOAA meet its mandate to respond to marine mammal strandings and research the causes behind them.
All three speakers emphasized that, while great things have been accomplished as a result of funding from the Prescott Grant Program, there is still work to be done.
The National Marine Mammal Stranding Network cannot continue to function at its current level without a fully funded Prescott Grant Program.
In fact, some marine mammal stranding response centers have already been forced to shut their doors due to diminished Prescott Grant Program funding in 2013 and 2014. As a result, IFAW and others are disheartened that the President’s fiscal year 2015 budget only requests the decreased amount of $1 million for the Prescott Grant Program.
IFAW will continue to spearhead the charge for a fully funded Prescott Grant Program that will enable organizations to quickly and effectively respond to marine mammal strandings.
Not only will this save lives, but by helping NOAA fulfill its mandate to respond to and investigate marine mammal strandings, it will simultaneously create jobs, and contribute to public health security.
As the end of the fiscal year approaches, we will continue to be a vociferous proponent encouraging those in Congress to stand up for full funding of the Prescott Grant for 2015. Stay tuned for ways you can helps us spread the word.
Read the IFAW infographic below for details on what the Prescott Grant Assistance program provides.