Virginia Beach/Virginia Aquarium and Marine Science Center
Sea Turtle and Marine Mammal Stranding Response
Project Description as Proposed:
The Virginia Aquarium & Marine Science Center Foundation’s Stranding Response Program (VAQS) is permitted by the NOAA Fisheries Service (NMFS), U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the state to manage the marine mammal and sea turtle stranding networks in Virginia. The VAQS mission is to “promote the conservation of marine animal species through stranding response, research, rehabilitation and education.” With assistance from this state grant, VAQS maintains a statewide stranding network and responds to marine mammal strandings (103/year since 2000) throughout the state and records sea turtle strandings (256/year since 2000) along the ocean and lower Chesapeake Bay coasts. Stranding response includes carcass recovery, external/internal examination, photo/video documentation, human interaction analysis, stomach contents analysis, tissue sampling, carcass disposal, and database management. Live animals, especially sea turtles and some seals, are provided with emergency medical care and rehabilitated for return to the natural environment. The VAQS staff recruits, trains and coordinates a volunteer stranding team with approximately 65 members. Additionally, stranding response cooperators include state and federal park staff, game wardens and biologists, military base personnel, U.S. Coast Guard, VMRC, VDGIF, life guards and law enforcement officers. Trainings are conducted throughout the year with emphasis on the natural history and stranding response requirements of sea turtles and marine mammals. The VAQS maintains the state marine mammal and sea turtle stranding databases and submits reports to NMFS and other agencies. Stranding data is stored in VAQS databases and reported to NMFS national databases. The VAQS views each stranding event as an opportunity for education about the natural history and conservation needs of Virginia's sea turtle and marine mammal species. This message is presented through exhibits, at schools, to teachers, to groups such as girl and boy scouts, to civic organizations and at conferences and special events. Through these ways, information about the status of these protected species in Virginia is presented to the agencies and individuals responsible for their management and conservation.
W. Mark Swingle - 757.437.6022; firstname.lastname@example.org
1/1/2010 - 12/31/2011; Project Completed
Final Product Received:
Marine Mammal and Sea Turtle Stranding Response Final Report (pdf)
Project Summary Provided by Grantee:
The Virginia Aquarium Foundation Stranding Response Program (VAQS) and Virginia stranding network collect data critical to the long-term monitoring of sea turtle and marine mammal populations. Strandings provide information on life histories of these species from Virginia waters. Stranded animals are often the only sources of this scientific information for many species. VAQS reported 263 Virginia strandings in 2011, including marine mammals (90) and sea turtles (173). In comparison, 96 marine mammals and 184 sea turtle strandings were recorded in 2010. Stranding records for marine mammals, particularly bottlenose dolphin (57), remain high and a significant percentage of the mortalities are related to human activities such as pollution, vessel strikes, and fishing. 2011 was noteworthy because of the unusual strandings of large whales. One humpback whale was entangled in gill net off Virginia Beach and several whales seen very rarely in Virginia, a sei whale and sperm whale, stranded dead along the coast. Sea turtles stranded in very high numbers in the lower Chesapeake Bay and ocean coastal regions of Virginia during the period 2001-2004 (average of 349 per year). In 2011, sea turtle stranding numbers were the lowest recorded in more than 10 years. There have been management efforts to reduce sea turtle mortalities, primarily with regard to dredge and fishery interactions, and possibly the lower stranding numbers are a result. Vessel strikes (45 = 26%) were the most common human interactions associated with sea turtle strandings.
VAQS attended to many live strandings (24) in 2011: 21 from VA; three from NC; one from MD; two from New Jersey; and one from DE. The stranding response team continued the recovery and rehabilitation of sea turtles and seals at the VAQS Marine Animal Care Center. These efforts contributed to the successful rehabilitation and release of one seal and 13 sea turtles. In addition, there were two sea turtles that remained in rehab at the end of the year. VAQS will continue its efforts on behalf of live stranded sea turtles and marine mammals in Virginia and the mid-Atlantic region and is working to develop a larger and better-equipped marine animal care facility.
Marine mammal and sea turtle strandings in Virginia continued at high levels during 2011. Virginia marine mammal and sea turtle strandings remain at some of the highest levels per mile of coastline for any state in the country. Continued monitoring and reporting of these trends in strandings of protected species will be priorities for the Virginia stranding network in 2012. A complete listing and discussion of 2011 stranding data and VAQS professional and education activities can be found in the final grant report to the Virginia Coastal Zone Management Program, VAQF Scientific Report 2012-02. Further information and a copy of the report can be found at www.VirginiaAquarium.com or by contacting VAQS at VAQStranding@verizon.net.
Disclaimer: This project summary provides the federal dollars initially awarded to the grantee. Due to underexpenditure or reprogramming of grant funds, this figure may change. For more information on the allocation of coastal grant funds, please contact Laura McKay, Virginia Coastal Program Manager, at 804.698.4323 or email: Laura.McKay@deq.virginia.gov
A more detailed Scope of Work for this project is available. Please direct your request for a copy to Virginia.Witmer@deq.virginia.gov