How volunteers are helping sick and injured marine animals in Tampa Bay waters

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PINELLAS COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) – Hidden in the middle of Fred Howard Park in Tarpon Springs, you’ll find a commonplace chain-linked fence. But what you may not realize is, what happens behind that fence and how it plays a key part in preserving our environment.  

“I am in love with animals and passionate about the environment as well,” said Jamie Knaub, a rescue biologist with the Clearwater Marine Aquarium.  

Knaub tells 8 On Your Side the aquarium’s volunteers go through extensive training to prepare for rescues. An example of that commitment occurred on Monday at Redington Beach, where hundreds of volunteers helped to save five beached whales. 

“Our staff and our volunteers go through a series of workshops so we know how to respond to each type of species. We also go through water training which is basically a really extensive swim test,” she said. “So that way we can find out who is real comfortable in the water and if we have to have land-based volunteers. Maybe they are not as able but they can still help at events.”

Once a sick or injured marine animal comes to the aquarium’s Fred Howard Park Marine Mammal Stranding Station, the goal is to always return them to their homes. But sometimes that isn’t the case. 

Clearwater Marine Aquarium volunteers are also trained in the unfortunate task of carcass recovery.  

“For that, we are really concerned with PPE, which is personal protection equipment. Giving ourselves a barrier between us and maybe any diseases that animal might carry,” said Knaub.  

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission also has similar training. The FWC sent a statement to 8 On Your Side mentioning how their volunteers take online training courses prior to starting their actual work.

“Our volunteers go through a series of online trainings before their first shift. For cetaceans, this covers live animal handling and safety protocols, background on the protection of cetaceans, anatomy, as well as general information on the types of strandings and species we may see. We also cover what to do if they are first on scene. Once the volunteers begin with our section, they will then be given hands-on opportunities for live animal handling, as we bring them on live and dead responses. Our volunteers are an integral part of our program, aiding our staff in the rescue and recovery of marine mammals, I was thoroughly impressed by our volunteers yesterday and am thrilled to see that our training program is working.”

BRITTANY BARBEAU, MARINE MAMMAL BIOLOGIST WITH THE FLORIDA FISH AND WILDLIFE CONSERVATION COMMISSION

For more information on volunteer opportunities with the Clearwater Marine Aquarium or the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, please visit their websites. 

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