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Virginia CZM Program: 2018 Coastal Grant Project Description and Final Summary

Project Task:VA Coastal Zone Management Program logo



Virginia Aquarium & Marine Science Center Foundation

Project Title:

Virginia Sea Turtle and Marine Mammal Stranding Network

Project Description:

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 (USFWS) and the Commonwealth of Virginia to manage the state’s sea turtle and marine mammal stranding networks. The Aquarium’s mission is to “inspire conservation of the marine environment through education, research and sustainable practices.” With assistance of this grant from the Virginia Coastal Zone Management Program, VAQS maintains a statewide stranding network and responds to marine mammal strandings (average 99/year from 2003-2012, 427 in 2013, average 93 from 2014-2017) and sea turtle strandings (average 240/year from 2007-2016, 283 in 2017) throughout the tidal waters and shorelines along the Atlantic Ocean and Chesapeake Bay. Virginia has a rich diversity of marine mammal and sea turtle species. There are 32 marine mammal species and five sea turtle species in the state stranding records. During 2013, a historic number of marine mammal strandings (427 in a single year) occurred in Virginia as a result of a bottlenose dolphin unusual mortality event (UME) caused by a cetacean morbillivirus. The strandings were part of the largest cetacean mortality event ever recorded. The UME continued throughout 2014 and into 2015, though associated dolphin mortalities were primarily focused south of the mid-Atlantic region. Virginia has experienced more normal overall levels of marine mamal strandings since 2013, however 2015 included the third highest annual total of bottlenose dolphin strandings (85) ever recorded in the state, and 2017 was a record year for large whale strandings (11). 2015-2017 also included increases in live sea turtle strandings, with the majority of the strandings associated with incidental capture by hook and line fishers. 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 animal strandings, especially sea turtles and some seals, are provided with emergency medical care and rehabilitated for return to their natural environment. Animals that are successfully rehabilitated but unable to be returned to the wild are placed with professionally managed zoological parks or aquariums. Nonreleasable animals are placed with the guidance of the agency with authority – either NMFS, USFWS or both. The VAQS staff recruits, trains and coordinates a volunteer stranding team with approximately 65 members. Additionally, stranding response cooperators within the state network include state and federal parks 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 compiled and stored by VAQS and reported to NMFS national databases. The VAQS views each stranding event as an opportunity for education about the natural history, threats (such as marine debris ingestion, entanglements, vessel strikes and disease) and conservation needs of Virginia's sea turtle and marine mammal species. This message is presented through exhibits and outreach programs, at schools, to teachers, to groups such as girl and boy scouts, to civic organizations, and at scientific conferences, workshops, trainings and special events. Through these many efforts, information about the status of these protected species in Virginia is presented to the public and to the agencies and individuals responsible for their management and conservation.

Additional funds for this year ($4,650 added to personnel and supplies) increases the capacity of the VAQS.

Federal Funding:


Project Contact:

Alexander Costidis, 757.385.6482,

Project Status:

1/1/19 - 12/31/19; Project Open

Final Product:


Project Summary:


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 or

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

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