During the last month, the Cape Cod, Mass., dolphin strandings have grabbed national headlines, and continue to do so as they approach the highest number and longest stranding incident of its time. Last week the Virginia Aquarium & Marine Science Center responded to this crisis by sending Stranding Response Live Animal Coordinator Linda D’Eri.
Much like human first responders who help one another in major tragedies, there is a network of stranding response organizations that support one another in critical circumstances. D’Eri is on a list of responders from several organizations who have offered to help the weary International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) responders on Cape Cod.
During D’Eri’s week-long visit she assisted in two live common dolphin stranding events, which included herding attempts and health assessments. She also conducted human interaction assessments, collected and entered data, searched for unreported strandings, and organized samples. “The national stranding network is the only way we can respond to events of this magnitude,” said D’Eri. “It’s a very collaborative effort that helps us gather data and learn more about why these animals might strand in such numbers.” D’Eri and one other Aquarium staffer is on call to return to Cape Cod.
Trained rescuers, scientists and volunteers have been working tirelessly to save the dolphins and learn more about mass strandings and common dolphin ecology. So far 149 dolphins have stranded, some seemingly healthy, others already dead or dying. Thanks to IFAW and responders from more than five other organizations, including the Virginia Aquarium Stranding Response Program, there have been 38 successful rescues and releases.
“Without the federally funded Prescott Marine Mammal Stranding Grant Program, we would not be able to send our team to assist others,” said Virginia Aquarium Director of Research & Conservation Mark Swingle. “We not only help other teams, but learn new techniques and procedures by cross training with other groups. It’s a win-win experience, just like the response to Deep Water Horizon last year.” The Virginia Aquarium sent three staff members, including D’Eri, to assist with sea turtle rehabilitation in Louisiana and Florida in spring and summer of 2010 during the oil spill.
The Virginia Aquarium Stranding Response Program’s mission is to promote the conservation of marine animal species through stranding response, research, rehabilitation and education. It is largely a volunteer-based group operating from the Aquarium’s Marine Animal Care Center in Virginia Beach. The program is supported by the Virginia Aquarium Foundation through donations from the community, and grant-making organizations. To report a dead or live stranded marine mammal or sea turtle call the Virginia Aquarium Stranding Response Program 24-hour hotline at (757) 385-7575.