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Emergency Ambulance, Is the Seal Breathing?

I have only accidentally answered the marine mammal rescue hotline once with my other job's opening phrase. When the lady at the other end of the phone had recovered from the shock of thinking she'd dialed the wrong number by mistake (namely 999 for an animal - some people do!), I quickly ascertained that she was calling for a poorly seal, which would ultimately require uplifting for a spell in rehabilitation before its eventual release back into the wild.

As distinct as arranging medical assistance for a sickly animal versus a human being might seem, there is a lot of overlap. Such as needing a precise location, something which can prove just as difficult obtaining for inner city residential spots as it can for vast stretches of unmarked coastline. We also need to know who we are treating (age, sex... species), the type of equipment that might be required, as well as personnel skill level and what scene safety issues there might be for the responders.

Emotions run high during both human and animal rescues, particularly when whales and dolphins are involved on the animal rescue side. It's emotional for the call taker too. There is a lot of pressure to make certain we ask the right questions, provide the correct time-critical guidance and instructions... Ensure that the we do all that we can, even though we may be tens or hundreds of miles away from the scene.

It was my blog "Is SeaWorld and Dolphin Captivity a Symptom of a Bigger Problem?" that led me on a path of introducing an aspect of helping people, and not just animals, into my life. Up until then, I had always had the attitude that some people help people and others help animals, and I was one of the latter. It wasn't until I started exploring the idea of "show, not tell" that I began to evaluate my own actions. That if I wanted other people to show kindness and compassion to the orcas and other marine mammals I loved so much, I might need to show it to the people as well.

Sometimes there are no connections between the work I do to help people and animals. But on occasion it provides an opportunity for me to cross the gap and talk about my passion for marine life to people who have never considered the animals before, or to highlight the similarities between whales, dolphins, people and the factors that impact their welfare. Did you know that both humans and orcas, for example, are cognitively advanced, emotional beings with a strong sense of self and surroundings? (Perhaps this is why strandings elicit such a strong emotional response from responders and members of the public alike - and maybe this is why the orca captivity issue has garnered so much attention, resulting in massive changes within the industry).

The fact that people respond so strongly towards issues affecting orcas and other marine mammals may be indicative of the similarities that we share. Similarities that resonate with us - and possibly with the animals too, (one explanation for the curiosity they have been known to show us humans when they encounter us in the wild?). Last year, I presented on this subject of similarity, relate-ability, likeness between "us and them" at the first International Conference on Human Behaviour Change for Animal Welfare - you can watch the talk here.

But it is my two jobs now, one for marine mammal rescues and the other for human health emergencies -being there for all vulnerable individuals in need of aid- that remind me there shouldn't be an "us and them" mentality. No matter how I answer the phone, or who I am answering it to, I endeavour to give the same degree of empathy and care to whoever is on the other end of the line needing my help. In this way, I hope to promote human behaviour change for all of our welfare. Us, them, we - we're all passport holders to planet Earth after all.

Grey seal pup ©