ATTLEBORO — The owners of a local bouncy-house business have come up with an invention they hope will help rescue scores of ocean sunfish that wash up on Cape Cod beaches each fall.
Sarah and Nelson deMelo, owners of Better Bounce Inflatables in Attleboro, have crafted a sling that can be used to move the fish, which can weigh up to 1,500 pounds, out of Cape Cod Bay to the open ocean.
Sarah deMelo said she came up with the idea while talking with Carol “Krill” Carson, a marine biologist and president of New England Coastal Wildlife Alliance, about rescuing the big sea creatures.
DeMelo volunteers at New England Aquarium and got to know Carson through NEAQ.
“There’s a major need for better rescue equipment that’s less stressful for the animal and safer for the rescuers,” she said.
Slings have been tried before, but the material they were made with was too weak.
The new sling, which has yet to be tested, is made from a tough vinyl material used for the company’s “moonwalk” inflatable.
It’s stuff that’s kid-tested tough.
But when the material starts to fade or the stitching wears out, it’s thrown out.
“It usually goes to the landfill,” deMelo said.
However the material is still very strong so the deMelos came up with idea of crafting a sling from it with the help of an industrial sewing machine they own for use in the bouncy-house business.
Carson said she’s looking forward to trying out the new sling.
“I am very optimistic that this will help us do a better job of rescuing these amazing animals,” Carson said in an email to The Sun Chronicle. “These are healthy fish in the wrong place at the wrong time, and so each time one of them dies it really breaks your heart because it’s not necessary.”
The sunfish get stranded when they mistakenly swim into Cape Cod Bay in the fall as they try to head south to warmer waters.
They often can’t find their way out and get stranded on the north-facing beaches of the Cape, unless they are lucky enough to swim into the Cape Cod Canal.
This fall has been particularly dangerous for them, with 140 sunfish washing up so far.
Typically about 40 get stranded every fall, deMelo said.
Most strandings take place between September and December.
If the slings work as intended, deMelo is hoping to make them readily available for rescuers all along the bay’s north facing beaches.
“The thought is, that if this works we can make a lot more of them and station them around the Cape,” she said.