A scuba diver from Leighton Buzzard is on a new mission as a medic for marine mammals.
British Sub-Aqua Club (BSAC) diver Eamonn Coffey has been back in the classroom training to be a British Divers Marine Life Rescue (BDMLR) Marine Mammal Medic.
Eamonn, 48, who is diving officer for Leighton Buzzard-based Chiltern Divers Sub Aqua Club, said he decided to train as a Marine Mammal Medic after seeing a TV programme on the work of the BDMLR.
He said: “I saw this programme and thought I’d love to give that a try and it would be another string to my bow as a responsible diver. I, and the vast majority of divers, care passionately about our seas and coastline.
“And with the number of marine mammals becoming stranded on our coasts most divers want to help but perhaps don’t quite know what to do.
“The course was absolutely fantastic and I learned so much about the physiology of marine mammals and how to identify the species and sex of specimens. And, importantly, how to assess any injuries stranded marine mammals might have.”
The retired Navy Leading Chef, who is now an IT data analyst, added: “I have to be honest I didn’t realise quite how many species of dolphins, seals and whales we have in British waters
“The course was all about learning how to assess, manage and handle a stranded animal. I now carry my BDMLR card for a year and will go on refresher course in 12 months’ time.
“However, the BDMLR run so many other courses relating to marine mammals I’m going to look at what else I can potentially learn and qualify in.”
He said: “The course was so well run and well attended. We had four Polish guys who all work at a seal sanctuary in Poland who came along specially for the course as well as couple of vets and a few yachting sailors keen to know what to do and help stranded animals.
“Learning how to lift and manoeuvre marine mammals was an important lesson and we were told some horror stories such as well-meaning people holding baby seals underwater until they drowned purely because they thought they needed to be underwater to breathe.”
Eamonn said he is now keen to work with Chiltern Divers’ Training Officer, Simon Marrone, to put a training package together for members of Chiltern Divers.
“It’s something I can bring back to Chiltern Divers and pass on to other club members. I want to encourage other club members, and other BSAC affiliated clubs, to sign up and do this training. It’s something that can only be good.
He said: “It’s all about knowing what to do and making sure if we, as a club, come across an incident where a marine mammal needs our help, we will be able to do something.
“As a club we frequently dive off the Dorset coast, which is a three hour trip away. We like to think of ourselves as responsible divers and we are forever clearing up dustbins full of rubbish off beaches.
“Any rubbish we come across we will clear away so it doesn’t harm wildlife. And anything we spot while diving, things like old fishing nets or tackle we will remove from the water if we possibly can. They are our seas and we really do need to look after them.”
He added: “British wildlife needs all the help it can get right now and anything we can do, as a BSAC club, to help we will. It’s something we care passionately about.”
BSAC is the national governing body for scuba divers and snorkelers in the UK and has more than 30,000 members.
It is made up of 120 dive centres and 1,000 plus family friendly and sociable clubs, run by volunteers, up and down the country and abroad.
Mary Tetley, BSAC Chief Executive, said: “Our members are passionate about the world’s seas and the wildlife which call them home and are always looking for ways to show their commitment to protecting them.
“Eamonn’s new qualification as a Marine Mammal Medic is a great example of this and it is brilliant to hear about how he aims to share his skills with his fellow club members.”
Stephen Marsh, BDMLR operations manager, says Eamonn joined delegates for the one day course held in Portsmouth and learnt how to handle and lift injured marine animals.
He said: “The morning session is classroom based and covers a little bit about marine mammal biology, cetacean (whales, dolphins and porpoise) identification, first aid techniques and health and safety.
“The afternoon was spent at the water’s edge learning lifting techniques with our seal and dolphin dummies and how to re-float a very real looking life-sized model of a pilot whale.”
He added: “Since 1988 the BDMLR has been involved in the rescue of marine mammals’ right around the UK. The group was formed following the mass mortality of harbour seals in the Wash, East Anglia.
“We now train as many as 400 divers a year as Marine Mammal Medics and we have 20 whale rescue pontoons strategically placed around the UK waiting to help stranded whales and dolphins.
“The appalling weather and tidal surges witnessed right around Britain this winter has resulted in a record number of call-outs. We have had lots of young seals separated from their mothers while others have been left stranded and weak after hide tides and storms.”
Eamonn says Chiltern Divers is a friendly club and anyone wanting to give diving a try is welcome at the club’s regular try dive sessions.
He said: “Our Training Officer, Simon Marrone, runs a pub so we do enjoy quite a good social life! We meet at Tiddenfoot Leisure Centre, Leighton Buzzard every Thursday evening.
“There is classroom-based training sessions between 7.30pm and 8.30pm then we are in the pool until 10.30pm. As a club our diving calendar is filling up for 2014, and as well as diving off the Dorset coast, mainly around Swanage, we have in the last year had trips to Scotland, Egypt and Plymouth.
“Club members come from all walks of life, we have architects, builders, physiotherapists, a real cross section of society but we would like more lady members.
“Of the 34 present club members at the present time, who are aged between 14 and 60, only six are women which is something we want to improve upon.
“Diving is a fantastic sport and I’d encourage anyone who would like to give it try to get in touch through our website or just pop down to the pool on our club nights.
“You never know, you might end up as a marine mammal medic!”
For more information on Chiltern Divers visit: www.chiltern-divers.org.uk For more information about BSAC visit: www.bsac.com and for more information on BDMLR visit: www.bdmlr.org.uk