Friday, September 16, 2011

September 15, 2011 - Ocean Sunfish Rescue in Wellfleet

Ocean Sunfish Rescue off Wellfleet Harbor - Jan Albaum and Harry Cerino

Note from Krill: Not very often do you meet a couple like Jan Albaum and Harry Cerino. They were so concerned about an ocean sunfish that was in the process of stranding off their beach, that they didn't take "no" for an answer. With persistence, they talked to someone who gave them my phone number and this allowed Jan and I to connect.

When Jan called me, I was teaching a Biology laboratory at Bridgwater State University. While the students were working on the lab, I listened to Jan's story about a sunfish that was stranding, as we spoke, just off her beach. The animal was still in a few inches of water so time was of the essence.

Never having met Jan or Harry, I had no idea if they could do what was needed to save this animal. But with a leap of faith, I asked them to push the ocean sunfish back into deep water if they could do so safely.

Not many people would have heeded my instructions, for ocean sunfish are an odd and unusual looking fish. And they have lots of slim covering their bodies, making the idea of touching them very unappetizing. But Jan and Harry stepped up to the plate and did what was needed to save this animal. They pushed the sunfish into deep water and stayed with it until it swam away. Their dedication and fast action saved this animal. If the ocean sunfish had stranded high and dry, they would not have been able to move it and it would have died a slow and certain death.

I love people like Jan and Harry for I admire their spirit, their love of all things wild and their tenacity and perseverance. They saved this animal even though they had never undertaken anything like this before. They listened to my instructions and words of encouragement and they proceeded on their own and by themselves. The joy they must have felt when they saw the sunfish swim away must have been overwhelming.

People like Jan and Harry redeem my faith in mankind and they remind me of the power of the human will and the strength of the human spirit. They cared enough about another creature to try and try they did. I hope I get a chance to meet Jan and Harry in the future for they are one amazing couple.

Best to you both and thank you for caring enough to act, Krill

From Jan Albaum:

A few days ago my husband Harry Cerino and I had never heard of an Ocean Sunfish. Harry saw one for the first time when he was taking photographs off of Wellfleet town pier and a fisherman told him what it was. We had never seen a fish swimming the distinctive way that Sunfish did.

Then yesterday morning over early coffee on the front deck where we were staying on Indian Neck right near Burton Baker Beach, we were looking out towards Great Island and saw that distinctive fin of another Sunfish come around a jetty for about a ½ hour. It was swimming parallel to the shoreline and it got caught in a strong combination of ½ tide rising and onshore bay wind and it got beached in shallow water right in front of us. It was not the same fish as the day before, its fin had a clear notch in it.

No one was around during this off-season time and we felt alone and helpless. I first called Wellfleet Audubon but the director wasn’t there and it felt like there wasn’t time to wait for a call back. Audubon gave me some other numbers to try and I next left a message with Krill Carson (who I learned was an expert on Sunfish) and then spoke with someone from IFAW Marine Mammal Stranding and at the Wellfleet Harbor Master office. They said once it got beached and was out of water it was unlikely that there was anything that could be done. This was discouraging to hear. We did not want to give up on this poor living creature and had run out of people to call.

Fortunately Krill called back in just a few minutes. She said based on my description it was a young fish (but it must have weighed a few hundred pounds), that we should definitely try to push it out into open waters, and that we needed to act fast. Her encouragement made all the difference to us. Krill told me to try to find some gloves to get a better grip on its slimy skin and that it wouldn’t hurt us. It was on its side, barely covered with water, flapping it fins but not able to get free from the sand. It was about a 15 minute struggle but we finally dislodged the fish and pushed it into water we thought was deep enough. But it still wasn’t enough for it to right itself and even when we got it out further it was still horizontal. So we kept pushing it deeper and deeper until finally it could get vertical.

Once in that position it floated there for a while barely under the surface. Its large sad eye stared at us. Finally it became more aware that it was in deeper water. In another moment or two it flapped it fins and swam off. We watched its dorsal fin as it rounded back around the jetty. The only thing that we could do was clap and cheer as it swam off into Wellfleet Bay. No one saw what we had done and we were encouraged on by a disembodied voice on our mobile phone but it all felt quite wonderful.

Jan Albaum and Harry Cerino