Leading the community of stranding professionals

Stranding professionals gathered on Cape Cod to discuss a number of issues—from regional and national priorities and protocols for both sea turtle and marine mammal stranding response and rehabilitation to discussions planning for future large-scale stranding events. A total of 28 scientific presentations—which  incorporated case studies, analyses of regional stranding data, research initiatives, health studies, improving responses and medical treatments, and outreach—allowed these professionals to share best practices and findings.

The International Fund for Animal Welfare’s Marine Mammal Rescue team recently hosted the Greater Atlantic Regional (GAR) Stranding Conference (formerly the Northeast Region).  Nicknamed “GARSCON”, the event brought together over 130 regional marine mammal and sea turtle stranding responders, rehabilitators, veterinarians, researchers, and volunteers for two days of network meetings, a day of science and innovations presentations, and a day long clinical assessment workshop.   The conference was held at the Hyannis Doubletree hotel, just 2.5 miles from IFAW’s international headquarters.

The GAR stranding network is the oldest stranding network in the U.S. and currently consists of 17 member organizations from Maine to Virginia that work under the authorization of NOAA Fisheries through formal Stranding Agreements.  The GAR conference has been held annually since the early 1980s and is hosted by one or more network member organizations on a rotating basis.

This year was IFAW’s turn and our team aimed to make the most of the time that our regional colleagues and partners were in the same place. In addition to regional network members, additional regional and national experts were invited to give presentations, participate in discussions, and offer insights.

Attendees were also treated to a welcome address by our own VP of Animal Welfare and Conservation, Ian Robinson who discussed his own stranding experience and the history of stranding response on Cape Cod tying those topics nicely into the days’ agenda. Cynthia Smith, Executive Director for the National Marine Mammal Foundation gave the keynote address, “Effects of the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill on Bay, Sound, and Estuary Bottlenose Dolphins”, which highlighted the importance of stranding data and the participation of stranding networks during such events.

IFAW staff gave four presentations which included a mass stranding summary over 16 years, regional entanglement data, developing capture techniques for entangled seals, and a summary of minke whale stranding cases.

 The conference concluded with a “Clinical Assessment’ workshop with the objectives of sharing clinical assessment information, skills, and resources and improving clinical assessment protocols.  The workshop was led by an expert panel who presented on sea turtles, seals, and small cetaceans (porpoises, dolphins, and whales).  Group discussions followed the presentations. 

It was a full and informative week aimed at better understanding and responding to marine mammal and sea turtle stranding events. We are appreciative of the opportunity to host our colleagues and to have participated in the many useful and enlightening discussions and presentations. The insights and planning developed during this conference will have positive impacts on stranding response in the GAR region for years to come.


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Senior Program Advisor
Senior Program Advisor
Brian Sharp, Emergency Relief Officer, Stranding Coordinator
Manager, Marine Mammal Rescue and Research
Céline Sissler-Bienvenu, Director, France and Francophone Africa
Director, France and Francophone Africa
IFAW Veterinarian
Katie Moore, Deputy Vice President, Conservation and Animal Welfare
Deputy Vice President, Conservation and Animal Welfare
Loïs Lelanchon, Animal Rescue Program Officer
Animal Rescue Program Officer
Shannon Walajtys
Manager, Animal Rescue-Disasters
Vivek Menon, Director of IFAW partner, Wildlife Trust of India
Consulting Senior Advisor to the CEO on Strategic Partnerships & Philanthropy