Marine Rescue team member's Virginia homecoming is all dolphin business

A team of IFAW MMRR and VAQS members rush to the aid of the live stranded bottlenose dolphin.As soon as I stepped out of the plane, I recognized immediately that all too familiar smell of fresh southeastern Virginia air, but the 80% humidity was one thing that I did not miss. I am referring to my recent deployment down to assist the Virginia Aquarium Stranding Response (VAQS) program during an unprecedented number of bottlenose dolphin strandings that have been occurring along the coast.

VAQS, like us (IFAW MMRR), are members of the NOAA Northeast Regional Stranding Network which spans from Maine to the VA/NC border.

SEE ALSO: Virginia dolphin stranding event provides opportunity to return a favor, gather data

During our intense dolphin stranding season of 2012, VAQS sent up two of their staff to provide stranding assistance as well as to gain more skills in live stranding response and health assessment as Virginia does not typically experience the large number of live dolphin strandings that occur on Cape Cod. So when we were notified of the difficult stranding situation they have been experiencing since mid-July, we naturally jumped at the opportunity to repay the favor.

The deployment, for me especially, was unique in that I was getting the opportunity to reunite with a lot of my former colleagues. Not only was I born and raised in southeastern Virginia but before my employment with IFAW, my career actually started at VAQS as I was on staff there as a marine mammal stranding response technician for five years.

So this was a homecoming of sorts, although it was all business. 

My first full day turned out to be the most intense and found myself quickly in thick of things; I was able to help the team respond to two live bottlenose dolphins strandings reported on the Eastern Shore of Virginia. One animal unfortunately died before we arrived on scene. The other live dolphin had stranded and was caught in the lines of a pound net (a staked near-shore fishing net).

The dolphin was safely disentangled from the net and stabilized in the water by first responders until the staff could arrive. Once on scene, I immediately went into health assessment mode by drawing blood and monitoring heart and respiration rate. We also sedated the animal so it would be easier to bring the dolphin on to shore. Unfortunately, from the blood analysis we noticed that some of the vital parameters were elevated combined with behavioral responses of the dolphin arching and tail thrashing (external signs of internal stress and health compromised). It was determined that the dolphin was not healthy enough to be released and was humanely euthanized. I participated in both necropsies of the stranded dolphins from that day and both showed internal signs of poor health with inflamed lymph nodes and numerous lung pathologies, confirming our determination that the animals were not healthy. 

Although we were not able to release the one live dolphin back into the ocean due to its poor health condition, the day was a success in that we all worked together through an incredibly hard day of dolphin strandings.

It is through these team-oriented responses that involve helping out other stranding network members that creates unity throughout our response region and is what makes it so easy to jump at the chance to help when the next call comes, especially when it is in your hometown.

--CH

For more about the work the Marine Mammal Rescue and Research team does, visit our campaign page.

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