Stranding Response Volunteers Receive Local Recognition
Last week at the 39th Hampton Roads Volunteer Achievement Awards event the Virginia Aquarium Stranding Response Program was honored under the Nonprofit Volunteer Program category. Several Virginia Aquarium staff and Stranding Response volunteers were at the event.
The Stranding Response Team is comprised of around 80 volunteers who do a variety of tasks both on and off site to support the staff with both live and dead marine mammals and sea turtles. In 2013, the Virginia Aquarium Stranding Response Team played a vital role during the Aquarium’s response to the largest unusual dolphin mortality event in 25 years. Normally, the team responds to approximately 100 stranded marine mammals per year. This year in a four month time span, July through October, staff and volunteers were responding, recovering and examining over 340 dolphins that had stranded sick, injured or dead on Virginia’s beaches.
Teams of volunteers were organized each day for tiresome hours of field response covering over 2000 miles of coastline. Field response involves dirty, heavy physical work to respond to stranded animals, sometimes in remote areas. Volunteers worked extra shifts often working full days collecting carcasses, cleaning gear, organizing samples, helping to care for rehabilitation patients and much more.
In 2013 alone, volunteers donated over 16,500 hours to strandings, 194 of those specifically for outreach events within the community. The Stranding Response Team takes advantage of every opportunity to promote the conservation of marine animal species at strandings, community events, public presentations, conferences/meetings, and training opportunities.
Initial stranding response in Virginia began in 1987 during an unusual mortality event affecting bottlenose dolphins. These first responders volunteered their time after their everyday jobs towards the investigation and response. In 1991, the Virginia Aquarium Stranding Response Program was officially formed. Since then, the Stranding Response Team has responded to 2500 marine mammals and 3400 sea turtles. The data and samples collected from these animals have yielded significant amounts of information integral to the management decisions affecting marine animal species in Virginia. Over the years, individuals, volunteers, and the program have been recognized locally and nationally. The program is supported by the Virginia Aquarium Foundation through donations from the community, and grant-making organizations.