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Women in Science: FWRI’s Brittany Barbeau

Marine Mammal Biologist Brittany Barbeau started her path to FWRI in Montreal, Canada while attending McGill University. Brittany joined Mote Marine Laboratory after college to work with their stranding investigation program, followed by a stranding technician position at the Virginia Aquarium prior to joining FWRI three years ago.

Brittany’s primarily responds to injured, sick, and deceased marine mammals. These animals are typically reported by citizens who call FWC’s Wildlife Alert Hotline (1-888-404-3922). After receiving a call, Brittany and her team respond to, rescue, and transport sick or injured marine mammals to a designated rehabilitation facility. If they are responding to a report of a carcass, they will recover and transport the carcass to their lab to perform a necropsy, or animal autopsy. A necropsy begins with examination of the external portion of the carcass, which includes but is not limited to highlighting and sketching scars, photographing abnormalities, and providing an in-depth description of the findings. The biologists then examine the soft tissues and skeleton. Necropsies are used to determine cause of death, and the findings from these, as well as rescues, can aid in management decisions by providing important information on key threats to the species.

One of the most memorable rescues in Brittany’s career involved a manatee calf by itself. The calf was under four feet long, a size of manatee that should still be with its mother, and Brittany and her team were able to rescue and transport the manatee to one of the five critical care facilities in Florida. Some of Brittany’s favorite animals to work with are deep diving whales, such as beaked whales. Much about these animals remains a mystery, so getting a chance to work with them helps biologists learn more about the species.

When you come across an injured or deceased marine mammal, call FWC’s Wildlife Alert Hotline. Taking pictures of the animal and noting the GPS coordinates of its location are helpful for the dispatcher and response teams. If you find a marine mammal stranded on land, do not push it back into the water. Brittany stressed that animals strand for a reason, and when they are pushed back into the water, they almost always end up stranding again. After reporting the animal, you may be asked to obtain further information or assist responders until they can arrive. Overall, Brittany says the best thing you can do to help the animal is report it and follow any instructions the team provides.

Biologists like Brittany are helping protect Florida’s marine mammals, like dolphins and manatees. To support their work, donate to our Marine Mammal Fund here!

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