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Virginia Coastal Program: 2009 Coastal Grant Project Description and Final Summary

Project Task:



Virginia Beach/Virginia Aquarium and Marine Science Center

Project Title:

Sea Turtle and Marine Mammal Stranding Response

Project Description as Proposed:

The Virginia Aquarium & Marine Science Center 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 mission is to “promote the conservation of marine animal species through stranding response, research, rehabilitation and education.” With assistance from this grant, the VAQS maintains a statewide stranding network and responds to marine mammal strandings (107/year since 2001) throughout the state and sea turtle strandings (238/year since 2001) 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, 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 stranding database and submits reports to NMFS and other agencies. Sea turtle stranding data is stored in the VAQS database and reported to NMFS, and the state database is co-managed with the Virginia Institute of Marine Science. 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 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.

Federal Funding:


Project Contact:

W. Mark Swingle - 757.437.6022;

Project Status:

1/1/2009 - 12/31/2010; Project completed

Final Product Received:

Virginia Aquarium Foundation Stranding Program Marine Mammal and Sea Turtle Standing Response 2010 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 280 Virginia strandings in 2010, including marine mammals (96) and sea turtles (184). In comparison, 109 marine mammals and 253 sea turtle strandings were recorded in 2009. 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. 2010 was noteworthy because of a mass stranding of Risso’s dolphin on the eastern shore, and for the four strandings and one entanglement of large whales. 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 2010, 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 (48 = 26%) were the most common human interactions associated with strandings.

VAQS attended to many live strandings (47) in 2010: 18 from VA; nine from NC; 17 from MA; 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 two seals and 14 sea turtles. In addition, there were 14 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 remained at high levels during 2010. These remain 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 2011. A complete listing and discussion of 2010 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 2011-01. Further information can be found at or by contacting VAQS at

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:

A more detailed Scope of Work for this project is available. Please direct your request for a copy to

Virginia CZM Program logo

For comments or questions concerning this program's web pages, contact Virginia Witmer.


This website is provided by the Virginia Coastal Zone Management Program through a federal Coastal Zone Management Act grant from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, US Department of Commerce.

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Virginia Department of
Environmental Quality
P.O. Box 1105
Richmond, VA 23218
(804) 698-4000

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