Volunteers who rescue cold-stunned wildlife need help with equipment to continue their mission

Hoping to continue rescues during winter, the group launched a fundraiser for cold-weather rescue gear to save themselves while they save wildlife

Carol "Krill" Carson spends her "days off" combing Cape Cod beaches for cold-stunned and stranded wildlife. 

"I will jump in the water, even if I don't have the right gear to try to rescue an animal," Carson said.

A whale watch captain gave the 4-foot 11-inch marine biologist her nickname.

"Because, I’m a shrimp," she said.

She founded the non-profit, New England Coastal Wildlife Alliance in 2005 in order to rescue and research wildlife trapped in Cape Cod Bay. The sea creatures are supposed to migrate south when temperatures drop. 

"As we move into the fall and the early winter, they're becoming cold shocked, and so they're hypothermic," Carson said. "They might still be alive, but they really can't swim. They really can't function." 


Carson, who earns her living as a professor at Bridgewater State University said NECWA volunteers have to buy or borrow their own wetsuits due to limited funding. 

"But, now those wetsuits aren't cutting it, because now not only is the ocean sunfish a little cold-stunned, but so is the researcher and the rescuer getting a little cold-stunned," Carson said. "Rescue equipment and dry suits would really be what we need."

Carson recalled a time she had to use borrowed, ill-fitting gear to conduct a rescue.

"Well, I have water in the suit and I'm on a boat now, not moving for like 45 minutes and I was shaking," she said. "So there's you know, I hate to say it, more times than not, where I've come back to shore and just been a bit hypothermic."  

"It really puts a lot of safety risks on the rescuers, so you can jump in the water for a few minutes and get an ocean sunfish," Carson said.  

With water temperatures in the upper 40s and the average December high temperature of 43, she said the group would have to limit what they do.

"It's really not safe as the water temperatures continue to drop," Carson said.  

NECWA set up a GoFundMe for donations for eight suits at $1,000 apiece but scaled down the ask to six suits when funds were slow to come in.  

"I'm great at marine biology, at rescuing things and measuring carcasses and collecting data and doing the analysis, but I'm not very good at fundraising," Carson said with a laugh.  

NECWA has interns and 11 wildlife rescuers. 

"Everyone’s trying to get down to the Cape on their days off and kind of station themselves, walk the beaches, hang around harbors where a lot of strandings occur," Carson said.

"I was just walking beaches in Truro yesterday and I picked up nine cold-stunned Kemp's Ridley sea turtles," she said.

According to Carson, the group also rescues turtles and birds, but their main focus is on ocean sunfish, triggerfish and torpedo rays.

"We rescue lots of what we call the misfit animals, marine animals that no other organization is focused on, and so there's no funding for this kind of research or rescue efforts, and that's why we're struggling," she said.  


Carson said the strandings happen through December, and climate change will likely mean some rescues will have to happen into early January, as well.

Last year, NECWA responded to 124 ocean sunfish strandings, they rescued 15-20. The year before NECWA reported 168 strandings. In 2008, Carson said only 10-15 rescue calls came in. 

"What I'm trying to do is to get this nonprofit in financially stable (shape) so that at the very least, the people who are so committed and passionate and are joining me on this mission, this, you know, crazy mission to rescue these animals, I'm trying to make sure that we have the right gear, so everyone is safe," Carson said.