Marine mammals and sea turtles spend their lives in the ocean, allowing only brief glimpses into their intriguing world. Unfortunately, these amazing creatures sometimes end up on our beaches, sick, injured, or dead, or become entrapped and unable to return to their natural habitats. These events are known as "strandings." They can be due to natural causes or, sometimes, human interactions. Stranding events provide unique opportunities for scientists to examine animals that are difficult or nearly impossible to study in the wild.
The Aquarium's award-winning Stranding Response Program is led by a group of trained staff and volunteers, our Stranding Team. These dedicated individuals respond to stranded marine mammals and sea turtles along the Virginia coastline and beyond. They work at the Aquarium's Marine Animal Care Center in Virginia Beach to rescue and rehabilitate live animals, investigate mortalities and collect data from dead specimens, and conduct research on stranded marine animals. Through their passion and commitment, the Stranding Response Team serves as environmental ambassadors, educating the public about these magnificent marine animals and their conservation needs.
Since the program's inception more than 20 years ago [data as of 10/30/2017], the Stranding Response Team has responded to more than 2,700 marine mammal and 4,000 sea turtle strandings. Averaging nearly 350 per year, strandings in Virginia have included: four species of seals, including harbor and harp seals; 27 species of cetaceans, including harbor porpoise, bottlenose dolphin, humpback whale and right whale; Florida manatee; and five species of sea turtles, including loggerhead and Kemp's ridley.
The Stranding Response Program is supported entirely by donations from the community, corporations and grant-making organizations. Click here to make a tax-deductible donation to support this vital conservation work.
Rapid response is crucial to the welfare and potential survival of a live stranded animal. The Stranding Response Team manages a network of cooperating organizations and individuals throughout Virginia to provide for timely and effective stranding response.
The Stranding Response Team rushes rehabilitation candidates to the Aquarium's Marine Animal Care Center where they treat animals for shock and other illness or injuries. Veterinary medical staff, working with advanced diagnostic services and specialists (if needed), develop treatment plans that address the needs of stranded animals on a case by case basis. For animals in grave condition, humane euthanasia can be provided to prevent the potential for long-term suffering. Rehabilitated animals are released back into natural habitats. When possible, we outfit animals with satellite tags and other devices that allow for post-release monitoring of movements and activities such as diving behavior.
The Stranding Response Team has been very successful in recent years with the rescue, rehabilitation and release of stranded seals and sea turtles.