Marine Misfits Research & Rescue

“Every Animal Counts” is our NECWA motto. We respond to any distressed and stranded marine wildlife on our beaches. But we specialize in marine wildlife that are not taken care of by other organizations in the area. These marine “misfits” include basking sharks, torpedo rays, ocean sunfish, and trigger fish. We run a telephone hotline for anyone to report distressed animals and we have sighting report forms on our website.

Stranding occur in the fall/winter, September through December. We have found that the success of each stranding response is based on our response time. We are most successful at rescuing animals if our marine biologists are on-site because minutes can make all the difference. The majority of ocean sunfish strandings occur in Wellfleet Harbor and surrounding areas. Extreme tidal variations and the narrowing of the inner harbor trap ocean sunfish and other marine wildlife trying to find their way out. At low tide, there is little water in the inner harbor and this makes it nearly impossible to move these large (average weight of 500 pounds) fish back into deep water. Moving an ocean sunfish is relatively easy if the animal is in shallow water and you have the correct gear. However, once the animal strands, we are unable to pick it up due to its immense weight, losing our chance to rescue it.

A Team Mola member checking the straps on our floatation device that has an ocean sunfish in it
A Team Mola member checking the straps on a large ocean sunfish (Mola mola) in our flotation device.
Rescued diamondback terraping hatchling being released

In 2020, we began the practice of staging down in the town of Wellfleet on any free day. This allowed our team to respond immediately to any marine wildlife stranding that came in on our rescue line. NECWA also trains members of the Cape Cod community to assist with rescue and research activities.

This program aims to rescue whenever possible, and when that is not possible, to learn all that we can about the stranded animal through on-site necropsies. This is done through collecting environmental data as well as conducting internal and external examinations where we record body measurements and weights as well as collect photographs and tissues. Our data and tissue samples are shared worldwide with researchers and government agencies. Also:

  • We educate other rescue groups about working with ocean sunfish and other stranded species
  • We have a dedicated set of trained volunteers called “Team Mola” whom we equip to help us with research and rescue efforts
  • We work with Mass Audubon at Wellfleet Bay, assisting with beach strandings and rescue efforts of sea turtles
  • We take injured seabirds and sea ducks to WildCare, Orleans for rehab
  • We take injured terrapins, box turtles and birds to Cape Wildlife Center (Barnstable) and New England Wildlife Center (Weymouth) for rehab