The Student News Site of MAST Academy

The Beacon

The Student Newspaper of MAST Academy, since 1991.
The Student News Site of MAST Academy

The Beacon

The Beacon

Megan Ely – Giving Animals Second Chances At Life

By Jorden Demerritte

Donning a Mustang Survival suit, Ely prepares to row to the shore of Seal Island National Wildlife Refuge 21 miles off the coast of Rockland, Maine. Marine Mammals of Maine are permitted to research this gray seal rookery.
(Photo courtesy of Megan Ely)

“Even at a young age, I knew helping animals in some capacity would end up being my career,” Megan Ely said. 

Megan Ely is a MAST Academy alumni that currently works for a non-profit in Maine, called Marine Mammals of Maine, or MMoME. The MMoME operates the only triage of its kind on the East Coast for seals, that sorts and allocates treatment to patients with varying degrees of injury. Here she aids in the rehabilitation, landing work, and research for the diverse category of marine mammals specifically seals. 

Her eyes were set on rescuing animals ever since she was a child, during which “she had a lot of pets,” including hamsters, cats, even pet snails.

Story continues below advertisement

She “always viewed animals as deserving of a chance in life no matter how small,” and this empathy towards animals and tenacity to make sure animals were protected is the all-encompassing reason why she has drilled forward towards a career of animal rescue. 

Ely’s elementary school teacher, Julie Brady, however, initially inspired her to care for marine mammals and their conservation. 

“I became interested in the field of wildlife rehabilitation during high school when I interned at a local seabird rehabilitation center to fulfill my internship requirement. I continued volunteering every weekend for the organization, realizing over time that I wanted to expand my skill set to larger marine megafauna like sea turtles and marine mammals,” Ely said.

Feeding brown pelicans during a volunteer shift at Pelican Harbor Seabird Station.
(Photo courtesy of Megan Ely)
Releasing a juvenile brown pelican at Pelican Harbor Seabird Station in 2012.
(Photo courtesy of Megan Ely)

Her passions honed at MAST Academy towards marine life, specifically whales and dolphins, and even shined through the extracurricular she participated in every year: the National Ocean Sciences Bowl. 

Alongside her in high school, encouraging her to continue on this path of stewardship for the oceans and standing up for what she believes in, were Mark Tohulka, Joseph Zawodny, Karen Sutton, and Lavetta Ulman.

“My English teachers, Mrs. Ulman and Mrs. Sutton were really supportive of me and taught me how to convey my passions through my writing and messaging,” Ely said.

She joined the Beacon staff in 10th grade and pursued it throughout the rest of her years at MAST Academy. As a “very shy and easily intimidated person,” she chipped away at her fears and discovered the value of having a message and conveying it to an audience.

She wrote opinion pieces on personal topics, and used the platform available “to write about the environment, veganism, and animal rights,” and advocate for her beliefs.  

Throughout her life, as she persisted onto this marine megafauna path, her passions were unlike those within her family, as they were more rooted in Miami and tight-knit. However, to her immense gratitude, they were always there to support her. 

“All of my family is back home in Miami, so for me to even go to college in a different city and leave the state and be gone for—it’s now been four years since I left for college and gone to live in Maine […] It’s been very unique for this to happen in my family,” Ely said.

Ely went to the University of Florida and she pursued opportunities to work with marine species. She volunteered for the U.S. Geological Survey’s annual manatee health assessments in Crystal River, Florida all four years. Through this, she gained first-hand experience with the capture, handling, and health assessments to be done on the manatees, which enthralled her interest in marine life further.

In the transport truck with a cold-stressed manatee rescued at Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge. He was transported to Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park and later released after a short time in rehabilitation. He was named “Roosevelt” for being rescued on Presidents’ Day 2017.
(Photo courtesy of Megan Ely)
Ely monitored the respiration of a manatee during an on-shore health assessment by U.S. Geological Survey and collaborators.
(Photo courtesy of Megan Ely)

However finding paid positions in the marine mammal field was a challenge, along with how emotionally concerning it could be to “witness animals injured or in distress on a regular basis.”

Ely eventually landed an internship through a scholarship program at UF.

“I was a Doris Duke Conservation Scholar from 2015 to 2016. This program aims to diversify the field of conservation through internships and coursework. I was able to conduct sea turtle research based out of the Whitney Laboratory for Marine Biosciences in Marineland, Florida for the first summer internship and was able to narrow in on a certain interest for my second summer internship,” Ely said.

Posing with “Myrtle” a loggerhead sea turtle satellite-tagged in 2015 for Sea Turtle Conservancy’s Tour de Turtles event at Archie Carr National Wildlife Refuge in Melbourne, Florida. The purpose: “to track the turtles as they travel and migrate from their nesting beaches to their foraging grounds.”
(Photo courtesy of Megan Ely)

Her current job is at the non-profit Marine Mammals of Maine, or MMoME, which accumulates all of her interests in rehabilitation, landing work, marine mammals, and research. The MMoME a unique triage that provides both short-term care and long-term rehabilitative care for stranded, orphaned, and injured seals.

One I included was taken by CNN for a CNN Hero of the Year story on the Executive Director of MMoME, Lynda Doughty, who is a 2021 hero. We were providing fluid therapy to a harbor seal admitted in critical condition. (courtesy of Megan Ely)
A group photo of staff and interns at Marine Mammals of Maine in 2018 holding eight abandoned harbor seal pups admitted for care.
(Photo courtesy of Megan Ely)

As an impatient person the “spontaneity and excitement of rescuing wildlife” is more appealing than working in “animal hospitals and shelters [and rescuing] small animals in a clinical setting.”

However, “working with animals, especially in the rehabilitation facility where recovery is not always instant, [has]  taught me patience and to move slower […] You have to be keenly aware of any behavioral changes, so you can’t just go [through] a day in a fast-paced way just to get tasks done. You have to really look at the animals and care and say, ‘Hey, this one’s quieter today. Why is that?’ You have to be really aware of how they come into the center and how they’re progressing and notice if they’re continuing to progress or regress,” Ely said. “So patience is key.”

“Some animals I work with you think they’re not going to make it through the night, and every day you go in there, you’re like they’re still fighting to be here, which is so great to see and we’re there to support them through their stress or injuries and illness, and we’ll do whatever we can to get them to rebound.”

 “I think that’s why I’ve continued working in this field and plan to for many years to come!” Ely said. “I’m motivated by the success stories of the seals I help rehabilitate and release back to the wild […] and always will  be a person giving animals second chances at life.”

Ely released a young harbor seal named Rachel Carseal that was rescued by Marine Mammals of Maine and rehabilitated by National Marine Life Center. Scusset Beach, MA 2017.
(Photo courtesy of Megan Ely)

This summer, she will be deployed to Kure Atoll in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands for servicing in the Hawaiian Monk Seal Research Program. Hawaiian monk seals are currently the most endangered seals in the United States.

“In the future, I plan to continue working in the marine mammal field, but possibly in a different region of the United States […] I also would like to pursue an M.S. degree in marine mammal science with a focus on marine mammal entanglements and possibly take up conservation journalism,” Ely said.

Ely has dreams of spreading her net farther away, as she alludes to wanting to work with National Geographic and become a photographer that writes about pressing animal concerns while traveling the world. 

With her skills of advocacy, writing, and stewardship, Ely takes in that it is important to voice concern for both the local and global world. By digging deep locally one can “effect change […] and shed light on issues far away, but also the ones close [by].”

“I had a very animal-centric upbringing and care and compassion for every animal that I saw […] It’s still there today, and I wouldn’t change it for the world,” Ely said. “I think it’s been really cool to grow up being an underdog in a way. I like how I grew up: caring relentlessly for everything, and that’s who I am to this day.”

Leave a Comment
Donate to The Beacon

Your donation will support the student journalists of MAST Academy. Your contribution will allow us to purchase equipment and cover our annual website hosting costs.

Donate to The Beacon

Comments (0)

All The Beacon Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Activate Search
Megan Ely – Giving Animals Second Chances At Life