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

The author gets ready to perform an autopsy on a dead dolphin. © Virginia Aquarium.I am finally rested up after a long and busy week assisting our fellow stranding colleagues at the Virginia Aquarium Stranding Response Team (often referred to as VAQS) in Virginia Beach, Virginia.

After a sharp increase in dead bottlenose dolphin strandings, our colleagues reached out for help with an unusual high number of dolphin strandings this summer, while dolphins have been stranding all along the mid-Atlantic and into the northeast coast line, the Virginia Beach area seems to be getting hit the hardest. 

SEE ALSO: Marine rescue team member's Virginia homecoming is all dolphin business.

With less than 24 hours’ notice I hopped on a plane bright and early last week, to assist with dolphin necropsies (animal autopsies), and to give some of the Virginia Aquarium’s Stranding staff a much needed break!

I spent five days, mostly at the necropsy table, with about 15 dead animals coming through, doing internal and external exams on any carcasses we could get a hold of, and extensive necropsies on the fresher animals that washed in. 

Many of the carcasses were not very fresh, I can definitely attest to!

However, we were still able to collect many useful samples and very valuable data about the animals that were coming in such as species, sex, approximate age, and body condition, which does play a valuable role in figuring out what might be going on.

It was a whirl wind trip, but an incredibly valuable experience. It felt great to be able to help out to collect valuable information and to give their staff a chance to try to start looking at the data, time to send out samples, take a quick breather and of course prep for more animals coming in.

Our staff understands the toll this type of large and extended stranding event takes on your stranding staff and volunteers, yes, we know this well!

Last year, we experienced a very similar event of about 216 common dolphins stranding between January and April of 2012.

We were incredibly grateful when Virginia Aquarium Stranding Staff arrived (for multiple trips) to relieve our staff as we were wearing a bit thin as the event continued into multiple months! I was happy to repay the favor as it made such a huge difference to our team last year. 

It was also incredible to get to work with a different species and in a completely different stranding environment. While we all do very similar work, there are many differences just even a few states away in the type of stranding response and situations; it was great to work with a different, yet incredible team of hardworking and dedicated staff, interns and volunteers at VAQS!

While these events are tough and straining on folks, it is a great opportunity to bring our Northeast Stranding Region closer together, although I am sure I speak for the entire Northeast network, we hope this event comes to an end soon! 

I returned tired; however, glad to have had the experience, and who can really complain about having to work in Virginia Beach for a week!


To learn more about IFAW's Marine Mammal Rescue and Research Team, visit our campaign page.

Post a comment


Brian Sharp, Emergency Relief Officer, Stranding Coordinator
Manager, Marine Mammal Rescue and Research
Dr. Maria (Masha) N. Vorontsova, Senior Advisor to the IFAW Marine Conservation
Senior Advisor to the IFAW Marine Conservation Program
Matt Collis, Director, International Policy
Director, International Policy
Patrick Ramage, Program Director, Whales
Program Director, Marine Conservation