When dolphins, whales and other cetaceans strand off Cape Cod waters, a community of more than 220 volunteers, citizens and officials stand with IFAW's Marine Mammal Rescue and Research (MMRR) team in the welfare, rescue and protection of these animals. The backdrop is often the picturesque town of Wellfleet, Massachusetts, with its unique shorelines and dramatic tides, and at the center of it all is the role of Wellfleet's Harbormaster.
“An obvious love for the people and animals of Wellfleet.”
“Always quick with a smile and a good laugh, but also quick to make sure we had what we needed to help the animals in distress.”
“A smile that was always a welcome sight at the Wellfleet Pier, always reassuring, knowing that we had his experience and assistance to get the job ahead of us done in a safe and professional manner.”
The above quotes only scratch the surface of how IFAW’s MMRR team regards Mike Flanagan, the acting Wellfleet Harbormaster for the past 22 years. His recent retirement was a surprise to our team, but it didn’t take his retirement for us to appreciate all that he has done for us over the same 22 years of our stranding response work.
Two decades of unwavering support
Mike was our eyes on the harbor, and our captain when it was necessary to guide dolphins in danger of stranding to deeper water. He was our hands to help lift animals out of the mud, and our driver to transport the dolphins off the flats and into our rescue vehicles.
Mike’s dedication to the town of Wellfleet, generous nature, passion to help others, and commitment to preserve and better the environment have made him an unparalleled supporter of our team and its mission. Regardless of the day of the week, time of day or weather conditions, Mike Flanagan never hesitated to offer assistance to help us rescue stranded animals.
There was nothing Mike wouldn’t take on. He understood and accepted, as we do, that marine mammals do not take holidays. In 2012, Mike spent Valentine’s Day responding to 11 stranded common dolphins in Wellfleet’s Herring River Gut. He was with us for two days helping to rescue 17 stranded Atlantic white-sided dolphins of Chequessett Neck in September of 2016. On New Year’s Day in 2017, he assisted with the rescue of 10 Risso’s dolphins in Chipman’s Cove. Later that fall, he helped with the tow and release of our team’s first satellite-tagged, refloated and successfully released live stranded large whale at Mayo Beach. And most recently in August 2020, he was there for the response of 45 common dolphins stranded in the intense heat at the Herring River Gut, with the added complexity of COVID protocols in place.
Mike, hundreds of dolphins, seals, whales, and porpoises are thriving today because of you.. It is with a most sincere thanks that we watch you hang your hat and wish you a happy retirement, free of our team’s phone calls and the thick Wellfleet mud.
And to William Sullivan, Wellfleet's new Harbormaster with whom we’ve also collaborated over the past few years, welcome!
-Jane Hoppe, Assistant Coordinator-Stranding, Marine Mammal Rescue and Research
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