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WRD News Story


Georgia DNR's Marine Mammal Stranding Network is Working to Give Wildlife a Chance in Georgia's Coastal Waters

Have you ever wondered what to do if you see a stranded dolphin or whale while visiting Georgia’s beaches?  If you visit the Georgia Coast on a regular basis, it’s possible that you could be faced with this situation.  If ever faced with this scenario, the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, Wildlife Resources Division (WRD) asks that you contact the local authorities immediately and in the event of a live stranding, stay with the animal until help arrives.  

WRD, through the support and help of the Coastal Resources Division, other government agencies, biologists, veterinarians and volunteers, coordinates the Georgia Marine Mammal Stranding Network (MMSN), in cooperation with the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS).  The MMSN responds to any marine mammal stranding along the Georgia coast in an effort to collect data, evaluate the situation, and, should the animal still be alive, determine what further actions are necessary.  Occasionally, in the event of a live stranding, the animal can be pushed out to deeper water in an attempt to return it to the ocean, or it can be relocated to a facility to undergo rehabilitation for a later release back to the ocean.  “Live strandings are usually very difficult situations,” said Leigh Youngner, Marine Mammal Wildlife Technician for WRD’s Nongame Wildlife & Natural Heritage Section.  “After evaluating each situation, we have to determine if it’s best to return the animal to deeper water, transport it to a rehabilitation center, or euthanize the animal.”  According to Youngner, it’s important to realize that marine mammals that beach themselves usually do so as the result of disease or illness and euthanasia is often the most humane course of action.  Euthanasia is always a last resort and is issued only after capabilities to rehabilitate the animal and return it to the ocean have been evaluated by the MMSN  

However, despite the odds, there are times when the MMSN is faced with a situation in which the animals can be saved.  Over the past couple of months, the MMSN has had two very successful situations that resulted in the rescue of 17 animals – 1 bottlenose dolphin calf on Ossabaw Island and 16 rough-toothed dolphins on Jekyll Island.  

A male bottlenose dolphin calf was found stranded on the South Beach of Ossabaw Island with an adult female in July of this year.  The female, presumably the mother of the calf, died shortly after being discovered, but the calf appeared to be in good health.  Dr. Terry Norton, veterinarian for St. Catherine’s Island Wildlife Survival Center and primary responder for the MMSN, examined the calf and believed it capable of rehabilitation.  The calf was then transported to Gulf World Marine Park in Panama City Beach, Florida.  Nicknamed ‘Nemo’, the calf now weighs over 60 pounds and is responding well to the rehabilitation efforts of Gulf World.

Two weeks after the Ossabaw stranding, 17 rough-toothed dolphins were found beached on Jekyll Island.  The rough-toothed dolphin is a pelagic species, meaning it typically occupies offshore habitats in the open-ocean and rarely occurs close to land.  All of the animals seemed to be healthy with no visible signs of illness, except for one large female that was breathing irregularly and had trouble floating upright on her own.  An initial attempt to return all 17 animals to deeper waters failed when the sick female returned to the beach and was followed by the other 16 animals.  Because this female appeared to be the dominant animal in the pod and was apparently sick, the decision was made to euthanize her in order to save the other 16 animals.  Following her removal, the pod returned to the beach two other times after being pushed to deeper water.  However, on the third attempt, the pod headed east for deeper water. No other sighting or stranding has been reported for this pod along the Atlantic Coast of the United States since that time.  An autopsy later confirmed that the female had a type of herpes virus and eosinophilic enterocolitis – a mild and diffuse gastrointestinal disease.  

Marine mammals are fully aquatic animals that have lungs and breath air.  They include any species of dolphin, manatee, and whale.  The Georgia Department of Natural Resources, Wildlife Resources Division asks that you do the following things if you ever come across a stranded marine mammal:

·    Contact the local authorities immediately.  

·    Be sure to note the location, number of animals, and if any are alive.

·    If possible, return to the area and wait for help to arrive.

·    Do not attempt to push the animal out to deeper water or move the animal in any way.

·    If the animal is alive and out of the water, attempt to place wet towels and/or clothes across the back to keep the animal hydrated and shaded from the sun.  However, minimize contact to reduce any risk or injury to yourself and the animal.

Funding for the Georgia Marine Mammal Stranding Network comes in part from sales of the wildlife license plate.  Georgians can support the conservation and protection of marine mammals by purchasing a plate for their vehicles, or by donating to the “Give Wildlife a Chance” State Income Tax Checkoff.  The primary source of funding for the Nongame Wildlife and Natural Heritage Section, the 1997 plate depicts a Northern bobwhite (quail) in flight through longleaf pine habitat – one of Georgia’s most at-risk ecosystems.  No state appropriations are available for the conservation of marine mammals in Georgia.    






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