Aquarium released sea turtle leaves sand tracks to ocean shore _ Conservation | Stranding Response Team

Seeing a marine mammal or sea turtle is one of the greatest experiences a person can have, but we encourage you to have safe and respectful interactions with these wild animals.

What To Do?

If you see a stranded marine mammal or sea turtle, please call us. Do not approach the animal or try to render aid without expert guidance.

Observer Guidelines

  • Do not approach closer than 50 yards to sea turtles, dolphins, or seals, and for whales no closer than 100 yards (500 yards for critically endangered right whales).
  • Never surround or circle animals.​
  • Call our Stranding Response hotline if the animal appears injured, entangled, or otherwise in distress.

Please call the Stranding Response hotline immediately if any of the following animals are ever seen on the beach: whales, dolphins, porpoises, manatees, or sea turtles.

Seals are frequent visitors to our area and often haul out onto beaches and other structures near the water. It is essential that you and your pets keep a safe distance (at least 50 yards) from wild seals that are resting. While most are healthy and simply resting, if a lone seal appears to be in distress or remains in the same location for more than 8 hours, please call the Stranding Response hotline.

​​​​​​​​​​​​​What We Do

The Virginia Aquarium & Marine Science Center Stranding Response Program coordinates the responses for all marine mammals and sea turtles that come ashore in Virginia, whether sick, injured, dead, or entangled/entrapped and unable to return to their natural habitat. Trained professionals examine the animals and, if alive, determine the most humane course of action for each unique situation. This nationally recognized team of staff, volunteers, and cooperating agencies works tirelessly, 24/7 and 365 days per year, responding to and providing exceptional medical care for live strandings, and biomedical and forensic examinations of dead stranded animals. Since the program's inception more than 30 years ago, the team has responded to thousands of stranded marine mammals and sea turtles.

Pier Partner Program

Even a minor injury, such as a small hook in the mouth, can pose a risk to a sea turtle. In an effort to help educate local anglers and provide quality medical care for turtles, the Aquarium is partnering with local piers in the Virginia Aquarium Pier Partner Program. The four local piers – Buckroe Fishing Pier, Little Island Fishing Pier, Ocean View Fishing Pier, and Virginia Beach Fishing Pier – have signage, recovery gear and pier staff who are willing to assist when a hooked sea turtle is reported. When a hooking occurs, anglers or pier staff call the Stranding Response Program and team members are dispatched to begin triage and medical care for the turtle. Turtles with no complications or additional hooks can often be released within 24 hours. When hook removal required advanced medical intervention or turtles are otherwise compromised they are released back into the ocean when they are healthy which can be days to months.

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This program runs primarily on donations and grant funding.