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This page offers all of Delaware Public Media's ongoing coverage of the COVID-19 outbreak and how it is affecting the First State. Check here regularly for the latest new and information.

MERR focused on safety during COVID-19 pandemic

MERR Institute
The Marine Education Research and Rehabilitation (MERR) Institute in Lewes wants to keep seals and its staff and volunteers safe during the Coronavirus pandemic.

April is the height of seal season locally and The Marine Education Research and Rehabilitation (MERR) Institute reminds people the beach is a seal’s habitat.


MERR also wants to protect staff and volunteers helping seals from contracting COVID-19.


Several weeks ago, MERR responders monitoring a 2-month-old gray seal pup stranded on Broadkill Beach ran into an issue with a beach walker. 


The walker refused to abide by the 150-foot distance guideline and allowed her large dog to get within 10-feet of the seal, scaring it back into the water.

“And that was one of a few incidents we’ve seen here in Delaware because people are out and about in a more plentiful kind of way more than usual,” said Suzanne Thurman, the executive director of MERR. "There are more people that are not seeming to be aware of best practices regarding these animals


Thurman notes MERR attempts to help passers-by understand how best to deal with these situations.


"We do our best to stage our trained responders at the scene with the seal so that if anybody is coming along the beach, our volunteers are great about giving information and education and helping the passerby - to realize first of all -  the seal is there and what is the best thing to do with an encounter.”

The federal Marine Mammal Protection Act requires people to maintain a distance of at least 150-feet from a beached seal. That’s so a seal that needs to get out of the water to avoid drowning can rest safely.

MERR executive director Suzanne Thurman adds that maintaining a distance is also crucial during the COVID-19 pandemic.  She says people cannot pass the virus to the seal, but could transmit it to MERR volunteers caring for these distressed mammals.


So Thurman asks people remember that social distancing requirements under Gov. Carney’s executive order apply on the beach



“I would say most of the time people are being wise and abiding by the recommendations that have been put into place," said Thurman. "But there are instances where people are congregating in close proximity to one another.” 

Thurman suggests viewing seal sightings on the beach through binoculars and giving the volunteers plenty of space to care for the seals. Thurman adds MERR volunteers are told to be aware of their surroundings when monitoring a seal and not let people get too close.


In cases where volunteers perform a rescue and can’t maintain social distancing, Thurman says they wear medical-grade masks, gloves and outer-gear that can be stripped off easily.


She adds MEER has curtailed all necropsies indefinitely.


Kelli Steele has over 30 years of experience covering news in Delaware, Baltimore, Winchester, Virginia, Phoenix, Arizona and San Diego, California.