National Aquarium Dedicates Stranding Response Center in Ocean City

Center named for longtime volunteers Chuck and Ellen Erbe will be the first stop for locally rescued seals and sea turtles on the road to recovery

On Friday, November 17, Ocean City Mayor Rick Meehan, National Aquarium President and CEO John Racanelli and honoree Chuck Erbe were among those on hand for the dedication of the National Aquarium Stranding Response Center—the Aquarium's new Animal Rescue triage and treatment space located in the Ocean City Municipal Complex at 65th Street.

The new 400-square foot space is dedicated in honor of Animal Rescue volunteers Chuck Erbe and his late wife, Ellen, who began volunteering with the Aquarium's Animal Rescue team in 2007 and donated countless hours to the care and wellbeing of animals rescued and released by the program. National Aquarium Animal Rescue has released more than 350 rehabilitated animals since its inception in 1991.

"We are grateful to Mayor Rick Meehan and his staff for making it possible to locate our new National Aquarium Stranding Response Center in the heart of Ocean City," said Aquarium President and CEO John Racanelli. "This specially outfitted space will allow our Animal Rescue team to stabilize and begin treatment of stranded seals and sea turtles immediately, without the long drive to Baltimore. We're honored to dedicate the new center to our beloved volunteers Chuck and Ellen Erbe."

As the organization responsible for responding to stranded marine mammals and sea turtles along the nearly 3,190 miles of Maryland coast, National Aquarium Animal Rescue has long relied on nimble staff and a network of volunteers to respond to reports of stranded animals throughout the region—sometimes up to 175 miles away from the Aquarium's Baltimore campus. Prior to reaching a five-year agreement to rent the Stranding Response Center from Ocean City earlier this year, this often meant that Aquarium staff would rush to the Eastern Shore from Baltimore to assess the health of reported animals and speed them back to the Aquarium for treatment as needed.

Stranding Response and Triage Manager Kate Shaffer relocated from Baltimore to become the Aquarium's first permanent Ocean City-based staff member two years ago.

"We are so excited to settle into this beautiful new space," said Shaffer. "We have everything we need here to triage animals in need of help and begin necessary treatments as soon as possible, an advantage that could sometimes prove lifesaving. This space fills a critical need within the Greater Atlantic Region for short-term stabilization and holding of seals."

The new Center features a treatment space equipped with a "garage door"-style entrance to facilitate moving animals in and out with ease, as well as a small office space which will serve as a home base for Shaffer and a dedicated corps of volunteers. While animals requiring long-term care will still be transported back to Baltimore, this space will allow staff to assess and stabilize critical animals, buying valuable time when providing critical care.

Among the animals typically rescued from Delmarva-area beaches are grey, harbor and harp seals, as well as loggerhead, Kemp's ridley and green sea turtles, all of which pass by East Coast beaches as part of their regular migration routes. Aquarium staff are also sometimes contacted to respond to whale and dolphin strandings and sightings. Seals are likely to benefit most from the new temperature-controlled accommodations for patients to receive initial medical treatment before heading to rehabilitation.

Over the course of more than 15 years, Chuck and Ellen Erbe of Frankford, Delaware, in their roles as Animal Rescue First Responders, often met the call when animals in distress were spotted—sometimes in the middle of the night or in foul weather—and Aquarium staff 150 miles away needed their help. For many years, they carried the Aquarium's coastal operations, undertaking everything from reports of late-night whale sightings to turtle transport trips to Florida. The dedication of this space in their honor is a fitting tribute to their remarkable dedication to the Animal Rescue program.

The National Aquarium's Animal Rescue program is responsible for responding to stranded marine mammals and sea turtles along the nearly 3,190 miles of Maryland coast and works with stranding partners through the Greater Atlantic Region Stranding Network to help respond to, rescue and release animals year-round. Seal rescue season begins in winter and continues through May. Should you encounter a seal on the beach, it may not be sick, only resting. If you do see a seal, do not touch or approach it, and keep a distance of 150 feet—about the length of three school buses. Please note your location and time of day and immediately contact the National Aquarium's Stranded Animal Hotline at 410-576-3880.

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